(January 16, 2024): The importance of screening employees, vendors and contractors against available federal and State exclusion databases cannot be overemphasized. Despite the best efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG), “exclusion screening” remains perhaps the least appreciated compliance risk faced by many small and mid-sized healthcare providers and suppliers. To the extent that a health care provider has, in fact, taken steps to properly screen its staff and contractors, many have restricted their reviews to periodic screens of the OIG’s List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE), and their State’s list of parties excluded from participation in Medicaid and other state-funded health care programs. Unfortunately, screening against these databases isn’t sufficient to identify individuals and entities that may have been excluded, suspended or debarred from doing business with other federal agencies and the non-Medicare programs they administer. For the reasons set out in this article, insurance payors, health care providers and suppliers should also screen the General Services Administration’s (GSA’s) System for Award Management (SAM) database to ensure that the individuals and entities they employ or do business with have not been suspended or debarred from doing business with certain federal agencies and the programs they administer. This article also examines the role of the GSA’s SAM Database with respect to screening for excluded, suspended and debarred individuals and entities.
I. Historical Overview of the GSA’s System for Award Management (SAM) Database:
Today’s GSA’s SAM database has evolved from humble beginnings over the last 30 years. After being sworn in as President in 1993, President William Clinton instructed his administration to conduct a National Performance Review of the “business” of government. In September 1993, the task force appointed to conduct this review issued its report and outlined 380 recommendations for (1) management reform, (2) reorganization, and (3) government downsizing. A year later, in September 1994, the task force reported that 90% of its initial recommendations had been implemented, resulting in projected savings of $46.9 billion and reducing the federal employment rolls by 71,000 positions.
These efforts to reduce and streamline the size of government enjoyed support from both Democratic and Republican legislators. Legislation previously passed by Congress, the “Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994”, was signed into law by President Clinton in October 1994. The stated purpose of this legislation was to streamline and reform the federal procurement process.
A. Legacy Databases and Registries Folded into GSA’s SAM Database.
Subsequent to the passage of the “Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994,” a number of procurement-related programs were implemented by various federal agencies in an effort to reform the federal procurement process. Several of these efforts included the following:
- Establishment of the FedBizOpps (FBO) Website. In 2002, the GSA first established the FedBizOpps (FBO) website. The FBO was intended to serve as a single point-of-entry for federal procurement opportunities over $25,000. While well intended, the FBO was roundly criticized by vendors and contractors hoping to learn of “Requests for Quotes” (RFQs) posted by federal agencies. Unfortunately, the FBO was plagued with problems and was ultimately referred to as the “WORST WEBSITE IN GOVERNMENT” by the Federal News Network Ultimately, the GSA announced in October 2019 that the FBO’s functions would be merged into the beta version of the SAM database. The migration and merger with the GSA’s SAM database officially occurred in May 2021.
- Establishment of the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) Program. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) played a key role in reorganizing and improving the federal government’s processes for purchasing goods and services from private vendors. Among its contributions, the DOD established a centralized electronic registration process known as the “Central Contractor Registration” (CCR) program. The CCR was a serious step forward with respect to federal procurement. It was intended to serve as a single point of contact for private vendors and contractors desiring to do business with the DOD. To accomplish this, the DOD revised the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) to require that vendors and contractors register with the CCR if they wanted to do business with DOD. As required by DFARS 204.7302, the DOD mandated that after May 31, 1998, prospective vendors had to be registered with the CCR before they could be awarded a contract with the DOD. In October 2003, the GSA published a new Federal Acquisition Regulation(FAR) policy which required that ALL federal contractors register in the CCR database prior to awarding contracts and authorizing purchases from private vendors and contractors. In July 2012, the CCR transitioned to the GSA’s SAM database.
- Establishment of the Excluded Parties List System (EPLS). In 2007, the General Services Administration established the Excluded Parties List System (EPLS). The purpose of the EPLS was to maintain a database of individuals and entities that were excluded, debarred or suspended from doing business with the government. Unfortunately, the EPLS was criticized by both users and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) because a number of excluded and debarred individuals and companies were able to circumvent the terms of their exclusion or debarment merely by operating under different identities. In July 2012, GSA migrated its EPLS, and a number of other legacy systems to the new GSA’s SAM database.
In addition to the above, a number of other procurement-related federal databases have been folded into the GSA’s SAM database since its creation.
B. Establishment of the SAM Database.
In 2012, the GSA first launched its “System for Award Management” (SAM) in an effort to address ongoing deficiencies with existing registries and to provide for a government-wide database that covers the needs of private contractors and vendors seeking to conduct business with the government. The SAM database also serves as a central registry for agencies to report certain adverse actions taken against individuals and vendors that have been suspended, excluded, debarred or otherwise sanctioned by a federal agency. There is no cost to use the SAM database. The GSA’s SAM database website can be used to:
- Register to do business with the U.S. Government.
- Update, renew, or check the status of your entity registration.
- Search for entity registration and exclusion records.
- Search for assistance listings (formerly CFDA.gov), wage determinations (formerly WDOL.gov), contract opportunities (formerly FBO.gov), and contract data reports (formerly part of FPDS.gov).
- View and submit BioPreferred and Service Contract Reports.
- Access publicly available award data via data extracts and system accounts
The SAM database is one of the sanction lists most frequently searched at the request of Exclusion ScreeningSM clients. As discussed below, more than a hundred federal agencies, administrative offices, commissions, advisory councils, etc. In fact, a number of federal agencies have their own version of a “Suspension & Debarment Committee” that is responsible for reviewing procurement related referrals for potential suspension and debarment action.
C. Various Agencies Currently Report Adverse Actions to GSA for Inclusion in the GSA’s SAM Database.
Since being established, the GSA’s SAM database has essentially become the central compendium for excluded, suspended and debarred individuals and entities. As of the end of 2023, there were more than 148,000 parties were listed in the SAM database.
II. Frequently Asked Questions About the GSA’s SAM Database:
At the outset, it is important to recognize that although the GSA refers to the SAM database file as “SAM EXCLUSIONS PUBLIC EXTRACT,” the registry includes individuals and entities that have been subjected to a wide range of sanctions and / or adverse actions, not merely formal exclusion actions. The following questions regularly arise in connection with the screening of the GSA’s SAM database.
A. Frequently Asked Questions
Question #1 – What types of sanction actions are included in the GSA’s SAM database? As previously noted, more than a hundred federal agencies, administrative offices, commissions, and advisory councils may submit the names of individuals and entities sanctioned by their organization for inclusion in the GSA’s SAM database. For example, several of the agencies that report sanction actions for inclusion in GSA’s SAM database include:
- OFAC List of “Specially Designated Nationals.” Individuals and entities owned or controlled by targeted countries, along with non-country specific individuals, entities and groups (such as terrorists and narcotics traffickers) have been designated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), as “Specially Designated Nationals.” U.S. persons and companies are generally prohibited from doing business with them.
- OPM Suspension and Debarments. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is responsible for administering the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), the largest employer-sponsored group health plan in the world. OPM has the authority to suspend and / or debar individuals and entities from doing business with the FEHBP program. OPM does not maintain its own debarment registry. Sanction actions taken are reported to the GSA for inclusion in the SAM database.
- VA Suspension and Debarment Actions. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has established a “Suspension and Debarment Committee” that is responsible for making recommendations for consideration of the agency’s Suspending and Debarring Official (SDO). Upon receiving a referral and recommendation, the VA’s SDO is responsible for deciding whether to debar, suspend, or make ineligible the contractor at issue. If the SDO decides to debar, suspend, or make ineligible the contractor, then the contractor’s information is forwarded to the GSA to be placed in the SAM database.
One of our favorite activities is getting into the weeds of an exclusion or debarment database, so the experts at Exclusion ScreeningSM took a closer look at the agencies that were reporting to sanctioned individuals and entities for inclusion into the GSA’s SAM database. We found that over half of the total exclusions reported to SAM database were reported by the OIG and included on the LEIE. This was expected because we often find that if a name matches a person on the LEIE it also matches a person on the SAM database. The next largest contributors were the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (TREAS-OFAC), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Food and Nutrition Services (USA-FNS).
Question #2 – If my company is already screening the GSA’s SAM database, it is necessary to also screen the OIG’s LEIE? Yes, even if a health care provider or health plan is screening against the SAM database, it is still necessary for health care providers to screen against the OIG’s LEIE. While the GSA regularly merges exclusion actions listed on the OIG’s LEIE into its registry, it cannot be screened in lieu of the LEIE. Over the years, a number of concerns have been raised regarding the completeness of the information and the timeliness of exclusion actions migrated from the LEIE to the GSA’s SAM database.
Question #3 – If my company is already screening the OIG’s LEIE, is it necessary to also screen the GSA’s SAM database? Yes. To avoid the risk of overpayment liability and the imposition of CMPs, providers must screen their employees, vendors, and contractors to ensure that none are excluded. The best practice is to screen against the OIG’s LEIE, each of the Medicaid exclusion databases maintained by the various States AND the GSA’s SAM database. Separate and apart from the LEIE and the State Medicaid exclusion lists, health care providers need to ensure that individuals and entities have not been debarred from doing business with the government. It is for this reason that best practices include checking the GSA’s SAM database.
These databases should also be checked on a monthly basis. This is a mandatory requirement of Medicare Advantage and Medicaid Managed Care Plans and most State Medicaid Programs, and the only way to avoid Civil Money Penalties (CMPs) if an excluded person or entity has avoided detection and becomes an employee or contractor. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that the OIG has no authority to impose Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) on the basis of employing or contracting with an individual or entity that has been suspended, debarred or otherwise sanctioned by another federal agency. Therefore, if a provider of government-funded healthcare services does business with an individual or entity that is debarred or ineligible by another federal agency, but who has not been excluded by the OIG, the party would not be subject to CMPs by the OIG.
Question #4 – What does it mean if an individual or entity listed in the GSA’s SAM database has been “suspended” or “debarred”? As previously discussed, the FAR permits eligible federal agencies and their components tosanction “contractors” (both individuals and entities) that have engaged in improper conduct that warrants suspension or debarment. The definitions of “suspended” and “debarred” may vary from agency to agency and program to program.
- Suspension Action. Generally, a suspension action is taken by an agency when (a) there is an immediate need to take action, (b) it is appropriate for the action to be temporary, typically limited to 12 months; (3) the suspension action is imposed pending the completion of an investigation or legal proceeding, or (4) it is based on adequate evidence, usually an indictment. The bases that may be relied by an agency official when suspending a contractor are set out under FAR Subpart 9.407.2.
- Debarment Action. In contrast to a suspension action, a debarment action is not limited to a 12-month period of time. Debarments are usually three years. Debarment actions are often taken after a conviction or judgment has been issued. The bases that may be relied by a debarring official when debarring a contractor are set out under FAR Subpart 9.406-2.
Generally, these are “adverse actions” that must be disclosed because if a party is suspended or debarred, the sanctioned individual or entity cannot be employed by, or conduct business with, a federal agency.
Question #5 – What happens when more than one federal agency has jurisdiction to impose a sanction action against an individual or entity? What is the lead-agency process? Great question. Surprisingly, this occurs more frequently than you might expect. Consistent with Executive Order 12549, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) created an “Interagency Suspension & Debarment Committee” that is responsible for coordinating multi-agency sanction actions so that affected agencies have an opportunity to be involved with cases that may affect their missions. The Committee is responsible for identifying one agency to serve as the “lead” agency that will be responsible to make the ultimate decision as to what sanctions, if any, will be taken. The lead agency is then responsible for reporting a sanctioned individual or entity to the GSA for inclusion in the SAM database.
Question #6 – Can the government seek fines, penalties and assessments if we hire an individual or contract with a company that has been suspended or debarred from doing business with the government? Any fines, penalties and assessments that may be imposed will vary, depending on the type of action that has been imposed and the affected agency that is involved. For example, the U.S. Department of Treasury treats violations of the OFAC list of specially designated nationals quite seriously. Depending on the facts, offenders may face significant monetary fines. During 2023, the lowest settlement Treasury reached in a civil case resulted in an imposition of more than $322,000. Moreover, when warranted, OFAC may referral violations to the DOJ for possible criminal prosecution. In contrast to OFAC violations, OPM may seek Civil Monetary Penalties and assessment from health care providers who improperly employ or contract with an individual or entity that has been debarred from the FEHBP program.
III. Final Thoughts Regarding the Screening of the GSA’s SAM Database
In order to protect your health care organization, it is strongly recommended that you screen employees, contractors, vendors and against the GSA’s SAM database. We do not recommend that you limit your search efforts to only the OIG LEIE and all available State Medicaid exclusion lists. To ensure that your office is protected and potentially knows about an excluded, suspended or debarred individual, Exclusion ScreeningSM recommends that health care providers conduct a comprehensive search of all available databases, including the SAM database, each month. For a free consultation, please call 1-800-294-0952 or fill out our assessment of needs and costs found below.
Robert Liles is the author of this article. Contact the exclusion experts at Exclusion Screening, LLCSM today for a free consultation by calling 1-800-294-0952 or by filling out the form below.
 The authority to exclude was granted to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human services in the Civil Money Penalties Law (Public Law 97-35, 1981 (as codified at section 1128A of the SSA). The Secretary delegated it to its Office of Inspector General in 1988 (53 Fed. Reg. 12,993 (April 20, 1988)).
 The Federal Acquisition Regulation(FAR) is the “primary regulation for use by all executive agencies in their acquisition of supplies and services with appropriated funds.” The Department of Defense (DOD), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are jointly responsible for issuing the FAR.
 Circular 2003-016, FAR case 2002-018.
 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report titled “EXCLUDED PARTIES LIST SYSTEM – Suspended and Debarred Businesses and Individuals Improperly Receive Federal Funds.” GAO-09-174(February 2009).
 Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (OIG), issuance titled “UPDATED — Special Advisory Bulletin on the Effect of Exclusion from Participation in Federal Health Care Programs.” (Issued May 8, 2013). See Footnote 6.
 For example, both the Federal Agency Registration (Fedreg) and the Online Representations and Certifications Application (ORCA) were migrated over to the GSA’s SAM database.
 For additional information on the OPM suspension and debarment process, see Liles Parker’s article titled “The OPM Debarment Process – Responding to an FEHBP Debarment or Suspension Action in 2024.”
 With respect to vendors and contractors, the OIG suggests that providers use the same analysis in determining “whether or not to screen contractors, subcontractors, and the employees of contractors” that it uses for its own employee.
 The OIG has twice published guidance of the effect of an OIG Exclusion. A Special Advisory Bulletin on the Effects of Exclusion from Federal Health Care Programs” was issued September 2, 1999, and an “Updated Special Advisory Bulletin on the Effect of Exclusions from Participation in Federal Health Care Programs” was issued May 8, 2013.
 The FAR allows for contractors to be suspended or debarred. A contractor is any individual or organization that: (a) Directly or indirectly submits offers for or is awarded, or reasonably may be expected to submit offers for or be awarded, a government contract or subcontract; or (b) Conducts business, or reasonably may be expected to conduct business, with the Government as an agent or representative of another contractor; or (c) Those directly and indirectly involved in the wrongdoing or alleged wrongdoing. See GSA’s Acquisition Policy page.