Legal Insider: Representing Government Contractors in Debarment Cases

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

We represent individual government contractors (typically private employees that work for government defense contractors) in debarment cases before federal agencies, like the Department of Defense and many others agencies.

What is a Debarment?

Debarments (and shorter term suspensions) are government actions taken under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to protect the government’s interest from contractors that have been alleged to be irresponsible. Suspensions result in temporary contractor ineligibility to work on government contracts, usually occurring during an investigation or during other ongoing legal matters. Debarments can last a period of years. Suspensions and debarments are not for the purpose of punishing a government contractor, but for protecting the public.

Some government contractors can have both debarment and security clearance issues.

Effect of Debarments and Suspensions

Debarments and suspensions have a significant impact on individual government contractors. These often include removal from their government contract employment (and potential termination from employment) and potential security clearance issues. Government contractors that are debarred, suspended or proposed for debarment are not eligible to receive contracts, unless a compelling reason exists, which can be a very high bar to meet.

The government takes a straightforward approach to debarment and there is a robust response process. Of late, the government has also seemed to take a more assertive approach in debarment or suspension of individuals that are under the suspicion of wrongdoing, even if they have not been convicted of any crime.

Common Reasons for Debarment (of Suspension of Eligibility)

The most common reasons for debarment or suspension can often include:

  • Criminal Convictions or Pending Charges
  • Civil Judgments and/or Liens
  • Evidence of Crimes
  • Specific Misconduct (e.g. time and attendance mischarging)

Debarment/Suspension Process

At the start of the disbarment process, the government will issue a show cause letter requiring a government contractor to demonstrate why they should not be suspended or debarred. These proceedings are completely relatively quickly and individual government contractors must respond in order to avoid a negative outcome.

A debarment or suspension proceeding is similar, somewhat to a security clearance proceeding. The government will generally provide a show cause letter to the individual pursuant to the FAR, an initial chance to respond to the allegations, along with a memorandum in support of proposed debarment. If the matter proceeds, the individual contractor will have to respond to a Notice of Proposed Debarment from the government.

Responding to Debarments

In responding to a notice of proposed debarment, it is important to fully address all allegations of misconduct or impropriety, through counsel. We often find it helpful to submit letters of support on behalf of the individual, awards, commendations and other materials which demonstrate the character and integrity of the individual.

Additionally, cooperation in related investigations, completion of ethics training in a relevant area, acceptance of responsibility and other mitigating arguments should be made to the Debarring Official in an effort to convince them that debarment is not needed or that mitigation is appropriate.

Following the response period, a decision will be rendered by the Debarring Official. The Debarring Official can uphold, mitigate or terminate the Debarment. If a negative finding is reached, leaving the person in a debarment status, that finding will be placed in the debarment database, known as the System for Award Managements (SAM). Further, if a negative finding is upheld, there is sometimes the ability to seek reconsideration of a negative debarment finding. The process can involve contacting the Debarring Official with new or other evidence and seeking to reduce the debarment. It is important to have legal representation in this process.

Contact Us

If you are in need of legal representation or advice, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or Twitter.

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