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Highlights

To protect the government's interests, any agency can exclude (i.e., debar or suspend) parties from receiving federal contracts or assistance for a range of offenses. Exclusions of companies or individuals from federal contracts or other funding are listed in the Excluded Parties List System (EPLS), a Web-based system maintained by GSA. Recent allegations indicate that excluded parties have been able to receive federal contracts. As a result, GAO was asked (1) to determine whether these allegations could be substantiated and (2) to identify the key causes of any improper awards and other payments detected. GAO investigated parties that were excluded for offenses such as fraud, theft, and violations of federal statutes and received awards in excess of $1,000.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
General Services Administration 1. To improve the effectiveness of the suspension and debarment process, the Administrator of General Services should issue guidance to procurement officials on the requirement to check EPLS prior to awarding contracts and to suspension and debarment officials on the 5-day entry and contractor identification number requirements.
Closed - Implemented
In February 2009, we reported on control weaknesses associated with the General Services Administration's (GSA) Excluded Parties List System (EPLS). We recommended that GSA issue guidance to suspension and debarment officials on the 5-day entry and contractor identification number requirements. In response to our recommendation, GSA issued a memorandum in April 2010 to GSA suspension and debarment personnel, which states that GSA's new goal for the GSA Suspension and Debarment program is to make EPLS entries within 2 working days, but no later than 3 working days after a decision letter is signed. Further, the GSA memorandum reminds suspension and debarment personnel that all firm listings in EPLS must include a firm's Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) contractor identification number. GSA has taken important steps toward improving the internal controls associated with the EPLS by issuing guidance on timeframes for EPLS entries and requirements for including a firm's contractor identification number in the EPLS.
General Services Administration 2. To improve the effectiveness of the suspension and debarment process, the Administrator of General Services should ensure that the EPLS database requires contractor identification numbers for all actions entered into the system.
Closed - Implemented
In February 2009, we reported on control weaknesses associated with the General Services Administration's (GSA) Excluded Parties List System (EPLS). We recommended that GSA improve the effectiveness of the suspension and debarment process by ensuring that the EPLS database requires contractor identification numbers for all actions entered into the system. In response to our recommendation, and according to GSA's work release notes, GSA noted that between June and September 2010, GSA added a capability to EPLS that requires that a firm's contracting identification number from the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) be entered when an EPLS user adds a new firm record or updates a firm's existing record in the EPLS. GSA has taken important steps toward improving the internal controls associated with the EPLS by ensuring that the EPLS database requires a contracting identification number when a user adds a new firm record or updates a firm's existing record in the EPLS.
General Services Administration 3. To improve the effectiveness of the suspension and debarment process, the Administrator of General Services should strengthen EPLS search capabilities to include common search operators, such as AND, NOT, and OR.
Closed - Implemented
In February 2009, we reported on improper contracts and payments that we attributed to ineffective management of the General Services Administration's (GSA) Excluded Parties List System (EPLS). Specifically, we found that GSA's EPLS contained insufficient search capabilities for agencies to use to identify suspended and disbarred companies or individuals prior to approving contract awards or payments made to them. We recommended that GSA strengthen the EPLS's search capabilities so that the EPLS can support the use of search operators such as AND, NOT, and OR. In federal fiscal year 2011, and in response to our recommendation, GSA strengthened the EPLS's search capabilities by including these common search operators (AND, NOT, and OR) in an advanced search link that appears on the front page of the EPLS website. GSA's enhancement to the EPLS's search capabilities will better assist federal agencies in detecting companies or individuals who have been disbarred or suspended, potentially limiting the occurrences of improper contract awards and payments.
General Services Administration 4. To improve the effectiveness of the suspension and debarment process, the Administrator of General Services should take steps to ensure that the EPLS points of contact list is updated.
Closed - Implemented
In February 2009, we reported on control weaknesses associated with the General Services Administration's (GSA) Excluded Parties List System (EPLS). We recommended that GSA improve the effectiveness of the suspension and debarment process by taking steps to ensure that the EPLS points-of-contact (POC) list is updated. In February 2010, and in response to our recommendation, GSA completed steps to institute a capability where the EPLS sends quarterly emails to listed POCs to update and verify their status and information. POCs have 30 days to respond to the notice. After 30 days, a report is sent to the EPLS Administrators that provides a list of agencies who have verified their information and a list of agencies who have not. Undeliverable e-mails will be redirected back to EPLS and the correct POCs will be verified manually. GSA has taken important steps toward improving internal controls associated with the EPLS by taking steps to ensure that the EPLS POC list is updated.
General Services Administration 5. To improve the effectiveness of the suspension and debarment process, the Administrator of General Services should place a warning on the Federal Supply Schedule Web site indicating that prospective purchasers need to check EPLS to determine whether vendors are excluded and explore the feasibility of removing or identifying excluded entities that are listed on the GSA Schedule.
Closed - Implemented
In February 2009, we reported on control weaknesses associated with the General Services Administration's (GSA) Excluded Parties List System (EPLS). We recommended that GSA improve the effectiveness of the suspension and debarment process by placing a warning on the Federal Supply Schedule Website, indicating that prospective purchasers need to check EPLS to determine whether vendors are excluded, and explore the feasibility of removing or identifying excluded entities that are listed on the GSA Schedule. In January 2010, GSA implemented a capability on its GSA Advantage Website that automatically warns prospective purchasers about excluded contractors identified in the EPLS, provides an online link to the EPLS website, and advises prospective purchasers to use EPLS to obtain additional information. In addition, in January 2010, GSA implemented a similar capability for those prospective purchasers that use GSA's eBuy and eLibrary Websites to obtain contractor quotes and additional contractor information. GSA has taken important steps toward improving internal controls associated with the EPLS by implementing a capability that automatically identifies excluded contractors listed under all of the GSA Schedules and advises prospective purchasers to check the EPLS for further information.

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