The Office of Management and Budget is compiling a master computer list of those debarred or suspended from participating in government agency grant programs. Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, a public interest group that monitors the budget office, said the goal of reducing waste, fraud and abuse is laudable but warned that the program “can become a hit list for individuals and organizations that the administration does not agree with.”
The controversial program will cover a wide range of transactions, including grants, cooperative agreements, scholarships, fellowships, loans and subsidies. It would apply to both recipients of federal funds and those “doing business” with them. The system is expected to be fully operational by May, 1988.
Under the new law (Reagan’s Executive Order 12549), 20 agencies which disburse $100 billion in grants will forward their debarred lists to the OMB. The master list will be computerized and placed on a nation-wide automated telephone system. Regulations published in the Federal Register (5/29/87) say that the master list will contain names and “other information” about currently debarred or suspended grant recipients, as well as about those whose debarment is pending.
Under the directive, federal, state and local agencies, private organizations and individuals handling federal funds must check the list before providing anyone a federally-aided service, grant, loan or other assistance such as day care. Any person or organization that fails to check the list may also be placed on it. In addition, employees of federally-funded agencies and organizations, as well as anyone “doing business” with them or wishing to do business with them must submit annual certifications that neither they nor anyone “associated with” them are on the list, or being considered for it.
Grounds for placement on the list include 1) violating any term of a “public agreement,” regardless of whether federal funds were involved; 2) failure to repay a government-backed or assisted loan, such as a home mortgage, student or crop loan; 3) “failure to perform” or poor performance on a grant or other “public agreement;” 4) lack of “business integrity or honesty” or conviction of “business” crimes; 5) debarment or suspension by a public agency at any level of government, federal, state, or local.
One can also make the blacklist if one: is a public school teacher and goes on strike despite a no-strike clause in one’s contract; performs poorly on any grant from a public agency, regardless of whether federal funds were involved; does business with anyone known to be on OMB’s new list.
Various agencies already keep records of those who violate rules of grants, using the lists to prevent such recipients from getting additional grants from the agency involved. But, under current law those same recipients may obtain grants from other federal agencies. Rep. Jack Brooks (D-TX), chair of the House Government Operations Committee warned that the OMB’s implementing guidelines “endorse guilt by association, reverse the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and define the operative offenses so vaguely as to potentially encompass many entirely legitimate activities.”
THE NEW YORK TIMES, 12/23/87, “U.S. Plans to Make Master List …”, by Martin Tolchin; OMB WATCH 1987 ANNUAL REPORT; FOUNDA TION NEWS, July/August 1987, page 8.