- The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has suspended FIGG Bridge Engineers Inc. from participating in any federally funded projects and has proposed a 10-year debarment period for the firm, according to U.S. Department of Transportation correspondence. The company's suspension went into effect July 14.
- The letter from USDOT Acting Inspector General Howard R. "Skip" Elliott to lawmakers said the FHWA was taking the action against FIGG "to protect the public interest." He said the agency's decision was based on FIGG's conduct related to the Florida International University (FIU) bridge collapse in Miami in March 2018.
- FIGG has 30 days to contest the FHWA's action, at which point it will be able to argue against debarment. If FIGG does not contest the action, then a Suspending and Debarring Official (SDO) will make a decision about debarment based on available information.
The FHWA prohibitions on contracting with FIGG during the suspension extends to all federal agencies, barring all but subcontracts of $30,000 or less, and applies to state projects that receive federal funds. It cannot be waived unless the head of an agency, according to the General Services Administration, states in writing a compelling reason as to why it should keep doing business with the engineering firm.
According to FHWA guidelines, a suspension generally cannot last more than 18 months, although the typical time frame is limited to 12 months while the federal government conducts its investigation. The typical length of debarment is three years.
An NTSB investigation of the deadly pedestrian bridge collapse at FIU found that the probable causes of the accident were FIGG's design and load capacity errors. An OSHA investigation stopped short of declaring a cause of the collapse, although both agencies faulted other contractors and consultants that they determined had a role to play in the safe execution of the project.
The new bridge collapsed onto cars stopped below it, killing five people on the ground and one worker who was on the bridge. Several others were injured.
Although the material that the IG sent to Congress last week contained information about the FHWA's action against FIGG, the primary purpose of the communication was to provide lawmakers with a summary of the companies — 41 contractors, subcontractors, consultants and material suppliers — involved in the design, construction and inspection of the FIU bridge, including information on any safety violations and prior criminal convictions.
The IG found that none of the 41 firms, including FIGG, had previous federal criminal convictions nor had been disqualified from participating in federal projects. OSHA cited 17 of the companies for safety violations between January 2010 and January 2020, and five were cited in connection with the FIU collapse.
Construction Dive reached out to FIGG for comments but received no response by press time.
The most common reasons for suspension and debarment, said attorney Brian Wood with Smith, Currie & Hancock LLP in Washington, D.C., are:
- intentional, willful noncompliance
Without knowing the details of the FHWA's case against FIGG, Wood said, the 10 years of debarment that the government has proposed seems extreme. "And, for that matter, it is a little bit peculiar to see a debarment for something like this — basically [alleged] professional negligence."
FIGG can challenge the debarment effort and even request a reconsideration down the road if the debarment actually goes through, Wood said, particularly because the proposed 10 years is so long. In addition, he said, the government could come up with a different punitive measure, perhaps barring FIGG from involvement in certain types of projects.
"There is a lot of discretion built into the rules for that," Wood said.
Even if FIGG is not debarred, the attorney said, the company could be subject to a "de facto debarment," in which case government agencies could downgrade its rating based on past performance, namely the FIU bridge collapse, and not award the firm work.
FIGG's current projects shouldn't be affected by the suspension, but even those aren't necessarily safe, he said. "That doesn't mean they can't look for a reason to terminate [them from the project]."