New Problems With GSA Debarment System

Richard P. Kusserow | October 2013

The General Services Administration (GSA) sanction screening database continues to have problems for users. The GSA debarment list, previously known as the Excluded Parties Lists System (EPLS), is now part of the System for Award Management (SAM). This is a new consolidated database that includes EPLS, as well as the Central Contractor Registration/Federal Agency Registration (CCR/FedReg) and the Online Representations and Certifications Application (ORCA). Additional databases are planned to be added in the future as part of the government procurement processes. However, all of this has resulted in operational bugs, including recently some security breaches for users, along with data discrepancies. For example, in April the GSA reported that it had identified security vulnerability in SAM, including the potential breach of names, taxpayer ID numbers, and bank information associated with those accounts. The GSA subsequently reported that it fixed that problem.

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Now, it is reporting another problem and posted an Important Exclusion Search Message on its website. The message states that if a user is searching for exclusion records, he or she should not use the “DUNS Number Search” or “CAGE Code Search” boxes on the Search Records page because the GSA identified an issue that could return incomplete exclusion results. Until this issue is resolved, exclusion searches — especially those by DUNS number or CAGE code — should only be conducted using the main (uppermost) search bar, where it states “Enter your specific search term.” Much of this does not make sense to health care providers and plans. This is not surprising, in that the GSA SAM has been designed exclusively for federal government contractors. Also, it is important to note that the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) has never actively called for sanction screening against the GSA. It has noted that the screening may be an added resource for the compliance program. It made clear in its “Special Advisory Bulletin on the Effect of Exclusion from Participation in Federal Health Care Programs” of May 8, 2013 that it does not have interest in cases where a provider finds a debarred party on EPLS and will take no action in such cases. The only government entity pushing sanction screening of the GSA SAM has been CMS, which has no specific function or operation to enforce this.

In view of the forgoing, I recommend considering one of the following avenues to reduce the GSA screening burden:

  • Screen only those parties providing health care-related services and/or products.
  • Screen at the time of engagement and at a reduced frequency thereafter (e.g. annually).
  • Conduct a “rolling screening” program of continuous screening of a small portion of the universe at a rate to ensure that all necessary parties have been checked over the year.
  • Outsource the whole screening process in order to save time and costs, as well as gain the confidence that the verification and resolution are accurate and provide peace of mind that you are meeting the sanction screening requirements.

About the Author

Richard P. Kusserow established Strategic Management Services, LLC, after retiring from being the DHHS Inspector General, and has assisted over 3,000 health care organizations and entities in developing, implementing and assessing compliance programs.