What is the Purpose of the GSA Debarment Database?

Richard P. Kusserow | June 2013

What is the Purpose of the GSA Debarment Database?

I served as the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Inspector General for eleven years. During my term, I was responsible for the creation of what is now known as the OIG List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE). I believe this has been a major contribution for guarding against fraud and abuse of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. It is also user-friendly to assist health care organizations and entities in resolving potential hits of excluded individuals and entities that are not eligible to cause costs to the health care financing programs of the Federal government. I don’t like health care entities screening against the General Services Administration (GSA) debarment list. It is not user-friendly, and for the most part is a waste of time, energy, and resources. However, this is not GSA’s fault, as it never designed its system to be used for other than Federal government agency purposes. The GSA’s position is that a debarment is intended to prevent the Government from doing business with companies or individuals who demonstrate a lack of present responsibility and is intended for Federal government agencies.1 It is not intended for any other purposes. The key point of this article is that the GSA debarment list applies ONLY to use by Federal government agencies, not health care providers and plans. Debarments prohibit debarred parties from contracting with the government. Health care providers may participate in government finance programs, in that they provide services and products and engage in business activities that are paid for by government programs, such as Medicare or Medicaid, but that does not make them a government agency or a grantee of the Federal government. Put simply, those parties who contract with a health care provider are not contracting with the government.

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The General Services Administration’s debarment is part of the System for Award Management (SAM). Until recently, it was known as the Excluded Parties List System (EPLS). It provides a single list of individuals and firms that have been excluded by Federal government agencies and was designed to prevent debarred entities from receiving federal contracts or federally approved sub-contracts. Its purpose was to ensure that Federal government agencies solicit offers from; award contracts, grants, or financial or non-financial assistance and benefits to; and consent to subcontracts with responsible contractors only. It was to ensure that any party debarred, suspended, or otherwise excluded by any Executive department or agency was prevented from participating in an affected program. It is important to understand that there are two types of debarments identified by the GSA on its website:

  1. Statutory debarments that are often mandatory. This leaves little discretion to Federal contracting officers in permitting their use. These debarments remain in effect for a period prescribed by statute, with limited opportunities for agencies to waive them. Statutory suspensions otherwise resemble statutory debarments, but last only until a designated agency official finds that the contractor has ceased the conduct violating the statute.
  2. Administrative debarments that are within the discretion of agency contracting officials. This category of debarments, according to the GSA, is not punitive. They may generally last no longer than three years and can be waived by Federal agency heads. Administrative debarments are within the discretion of agency contracting officials; suspensions are temporary administrative debarments, lasting only as long as any agency investigation of contractor misconduct or ensuing legal proceedings.

The GSA debarment list was not created for non-governmental entities in any sector, including health care. There are very vew providers of health care services and products that meet the criteria of a Federal agency. Among the exceptions are the Veterans Administration, Indian Health Service, National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense health care facilities, and other similar bodies of government providing health care.

  1. The Government debarment and suspension procedures are intended for government agencies contracting with commercial entities, not for non-government entities.
  2. Many of the government contractors on the SAM/EPLS are very large multi-billion dollar organizations with many subsidiaries. It is difficult to know when a debarment arises from one of those subsidiaries how relevant it is to another.
  3. The DHHS OIG decided to add its LEIE to the SAM/EPLS. As such, any hits on the LEIE may alsoshow up on the GSA database. It is a double hit for the same action. 

1 David A. Drabkin, Acting Chief Acquisition Officer for the GSA at a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
hearing on February 26, 2009.

About the Author

Richard P. Kusserow established Strategic Management Services, LLC, after retiring from being the DHHS Inspector General, and has assisted over 2,000 health care organizations and entities in developing, implementing and assessing compliance programs.