Most states don't check federal list of barred contractors

Posted: Monday, September 18, 2000

The federal government maintains an Internet-accessible list of companies it will not hire. Fourteen states, including Alaska, said their contracting offices do not check the list. Another 20 check only occasionally and about half a dozen instituted checks as a result of the AP inquiry.

A review of state procurement records in all 50 states found several states that fail to consult the federal list have repeatedly hired contractors that have had run-ins with the government.

In Alaska, state law does not allow the government to bar contractors simply because the federal government has done so, said Commissioner of Administration Jim Duncan.

The state uses the model procurement code developed by the American Bar Association, and being barred by the federal government is not one of the criteria to determine whether bidders are credible, Duncan said.

The state does have problems with contractors "from time to time," but none of the contractors involved had been barred previously by the federal government, he said. As for the list, "We do not check it as a matter of course. ... We haven't seen this as a problem."

The General Services Administration, the government's landlord and purchasing agent, is responsible for maintaining the list, and federal agencies are required to check it before awarding contracts and grants.

About 24,000 companies or individuals are barred from doing business with the government for infractions that range from violation of drug-free workplace laws to embezzlement and contract fraud. The bans can be indefinite or last just a few years.

Although the federal list is accessible on the Internet, some states said their already overworked bureaucracies cannot handle the extra chore.

In Kansas, some government agencies check the list only for Medicaid-related contractors, although almost 300 Kansas-based companies are excluded from federal contracts. During the past few years, state agencies have hired at least seven federally banned companies.

Dan Stanley, the state's secretary of administration, said Kansas probably should consult the federal list. "I think that's something we need to include in our reviews," he said. "It may raise some flags."

Some states say using the list causes complications. States may not trust the federal recommendations or may not have a large enough pool of contractors to exclude companies with past bad practices.

"Much of what comes to us from the federal government I wouldn't trust. They're incompetent," said Robert Carl Jr., Rhode Island Administration Department director.

In July, an AP analysis showed that hundreds of companies prosecuted or sued for defrauding the government remain eligible to receive federal business because agencies chose not to ban them. Many had received new federal business.

Joe Giddis, administrator of the Arkansas purchasing office, said his state makes its own judgments on contractor quality.

"Because they have run into some problems within another jurisdiction does not mean they are not going to be able to provide Arkansas with the services and commodities that we need," said Giddis, whose office oversees up to 10,000 bidders.

Empire staff writer Bill McAllister contributed to this article.

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