Govt. to list debarment info online

For months, the telecommunications industry has been waiting to learn whether WorldCom Inc. will be debarred from government procurements because of problems with its accounting practices and record-breaking bankruptcy.

Soon, any interested party -- not just in telecom but throughout the federal IT sector -- will be able to find out by getting online. The Defense Department, NASA and the General Services Administration are jointly recommending that the Excluded Parties Listing System, already on the Web at http://www.epls.gov, be maintained as a mandatory system.

The agencies have proposed changing the Federal Acquisition Regulation to require that the names of companies debarred, proposed for debarment, suspended or otherwise declared ineligible for competing for federal contracts be maintained solely in this electronic database.

Switching to the electronic format will make agencies responsible for their own entries, require them to update the list in a more timely manner and expand users' abilities to make more informed decisions, said Keith Thurston, assistant deputy associate administrator in the Office of e-Government and Technology at GSA.

The EPLS Web site has been up and running for about a year, Thurston said; the proposed regulation would make agencies' participation mandatory.

The White House has asked GSA to make the Web site "more of a one-stop repository," he said, by including a number of government-maintained lists, including the suspected terrorists list and those barred from entering the United States.

"This is more widely used than just [within] the government," Thurston said. Companies will use the information to screen potential partners on government contracts, for instance, or hospitals will check doctors to see if they've been disbarred under Medicare or Medicaid programs.

The Defense Department, NASA and GSA are the key members on the FAR council, so all changes to the FAR come out with their backing, Thurston said. The recommended change, published in the Dec. 3 Federal Register, would end the practice of publishing a hard-copy list, he said.

"We used to have a quarterly publication about an inch and a half thick, listing [companies] debarred or suspended from relationships with the government," he said. "It was a laborious and time-delayed process, plus the cost of printing and mailing."

Making the excluded parties list electronic-only is just a proposed change right now, he said. Companies and individuals can send comments on the proposal by Jan. 30 to General Services Administration, FAR Secretariat (MVA), 1800 F St. NW, Room 4035, Attn: Laurie Duarte, Washington, DC 20405. Electronic comments should be sent to farcase.2002-023@gsa.gov. *

Staff Writer Patience Wait can be reached at pwait@postnewsweektech.com. Jason Miller of Government Computer News contributed to this story.

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