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Transcript for audio podcast: Rules for HHS Contractors

From the Office of Inspector General of Department of Health and Human Services

http://oig.hhs.gov

I'm Julie Hodgkins, an attorney in the HHS Office of Inspector General.

As I'm sure you already know, there are many rules for Federal contractors.

I'm going to tell you about some of those rules, where you can find all of the rules, and give you some tips so you can avoid problems with your HHS contract.

Let's get started.

Most Federal contracts are subject to the Federal Acquisition Regulation, or the FAR, although a few are not. For example, contracts for Medicare Advantage organizations are not FAR based.

So, here's your first tip: It's important to know if the FAR applies to your contract.

If it does, you must comply with all of the provisions that apply to your contract. Familiarize yourself with the relevant FAR provisions before beginning any work on the contract.

If your contract is governed by the FAR, there are additional rules you must follow: the HHS Acquisition Regulation or the HHSAR. The HHSAR implements and supplements the FAR. So, there may be rules that apply to your contract in addition to those found in the FAR.

Now, let's briefly discuss what is expected of you. Contractors are expected to deliver the requested product or service on time and within budget. The best way to prevent problems is to understand the contract and follow its terms.

Put simply, read and understand the terms of your contract. If you have questions about your contract there are people to help: HHS Contracting Officers for example. HHS contracting officers are the people who award contracts and oversee them. If there is a problem with your contract, the contracting officer is the only person who can change it.

However, the person you are likely to have the most contact with is a Contracting Officer's Representative, or COR. The COR will monitor your progress, accept or decline your work, and review your invoices.

So, here's another tip: Know your HHS contracting officer and COR. They are your greatest resource to answer questions and make adjustments along the way.

It is better to clear up confusion or problems with your contract early. If you don't follow the terms of your contract, you can be seen as a poor performer. And if it is determined that you knowingly violated the terms of the contract, it could lead to civil or criminal liability.

Negligence is one thing, but fraud is another. There are a range of penalties for people who defraud the government. They can face criminal, civil, or administrative sanctions.

Crimes such as bribes, gratuities and kick-backs can result in severe penalties such as heavy fines and possible imprisonment.

Lying is also a problem. The False Claims Act prohibits a contractor from making a false statement to obtain payment from the government. For example, charging for services not performed, or padding invoices. You also can't lie to reduce the amount of money you owe the government.

It is important to recognize that ignorance is not a defense when it comes to the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act applies whether you deliberately lied, or just looked the other way.

Making a false claim can cost you. You may have to pay additional damages and you could lose the ability to do business with the government in the future.

Which leads me to one final tip: If you find in performing your contract that you have violated the False Claims Act or Federal Criminal Law, or even received a significant overpayment, the best course is to self-disclose.

In fact, if you have a contract of more than $5 million dollars, you are required to self-disclose. Disclosures must be made in writing to the contracting officer and to the Office of Inspector General. Failure to do so in a timely manner could result in suspension or debarment from doing business with the Federal government.

The Office of Inspector General can give you more information on how to make a self-disclosure.

Contract fraud is a serious issue. Do your part to help prevent contract fraud. If you suspect fraud, waste or abuse involving an HHS contract, we want to know.

Contact us at 1-800-HHS-TIPS or on the web at oig.hhs.gov.

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