US: Homeland Security's Use of Contractors Is Questioned

Publisher Name: 
Washington Post

At the Department of Homeland Security, contract employees help write
job descriptions for new headquarters workers. Private contractors
also sign letters that officially offer employment. And they meet new
government hires on their first day on the job.

About the only thing they do not do, a critical new congressional
audit concludes, is swear in DHS employees.

Across several of DHS's most troubled projects, including delayed
programs to replace the Coast Guard's fleet and to issue secure
credentials to port workers, contractors are so enmeshed in DHS's work
that they oversee other contractors. Some are assigned work that
involves awarding future business, setting policy or drawing up plans
and reorganizations, according to the Government Accountability
Office, Congress's audit arm.

"Plainly put, we need to know who is in charge at DHS -- its
managers and workers, or the contractors," Sen. Joseph I.
Lieberman (I-Conn.) said in a written statement. "This heavy
reliance on contractors raises the risk that DHS is not creating the
institutional knowledge needed to be able to judge whether contractors
are performing as they should, and at a fair price."

Lieberman plans to hold a hearing on the report's findings before the
Senate homeland security committee today.

Independent analysts have increasingly warned in recent years that the
government's growing reliance on private firms threatens to undermine
agencies' decision-making, a risk the audit found was heightened in
DHS's case by its complex 2003 start-up and the rapid expansion of its

GAO investigators wrote that DHS's practices raise "the risk that
government decisions may be influenced by, rather than independent
from, contractor judgments," and that DHS could lose control over
and accountability for its decisions.

DHS officials said the department began addressing GAO's concerns even
before the report was done, plans staffing studies to set targets for
the right mix of government and contractor workers, and is tightening
acquisitions training and requirements on contractors. The last
objective will be very difficult to achieve, DHS said, offering no
timeline for completion. But spokesman Russ Knocke added, "There
should be no uncertainty about our appreciation for and commitment to
being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

"This objective will be very difficult to achieve, and it is far
too early to place . . . progress on a timeline for completion,"
he wrote.

While the Pentagon is by far the largest government buyer, DHS ranks
third and has depended heavily on private companies. In 2006 alone,
DHS spent $15.7 billion on goods and services, including more than $5
billion on management and professional support services.

In their study, GAO investigators found that of 117 contracts issued
by three large DHS agencies, the Coast Guard, the Transportation
Security Administration and the Office of Procurement Operations, more
than half called for outside firms to support inherently governmental

For example, according to the GAO and the Senate committee, DHS's
procurement office awarded $42.4 million to Booz Allen Hamilton to
provide services to the department's intelligence unit, including
formulating its budget and policies, managing its technology
procurements and even providing analysis of intelligence threats.

Elsewhere, DHS paid $2.1 million to MicroSystems Integration to help
plan and reorganize its $24 billion fleet management effort, which has
yielded four major classes of ships with design flaws. TSA paid $7.9
million to BearingPoint to provide strategic planning and legislative
support, among other things, for the Transportation Worker
Identification Credential program, which, after five years, is now
only beginning to produce secure IDs for 800,000 workers.

John Jaeger, president of Your Recruiting, of Fairfax, said his firm
received a $4.9 million contract in 2006, part of nearly $20 million
Your Recruiting has received for helping DHS fill an estimated 2,600
non-senior executive service headquarters positions. Jaeger estimated
that his firm has helped DHS hire 5,000 workers since 2003.

But he said Your Recruiting was involved only in operations, not
policy -- drafting job descriptions, for example, and sending initial
offer letters to people in about half the 45-day period the federal
government sets as a goal. The company never performed work that only
government can do, he said.

"We did the orientation, but we didn't do the swearing-in,"
he said.

Citing decisions since
the 1990s to shrink the federal workforce, Jaeger said, "Don't
blame contractors for stepping in and filling a void that cannot be
filled by government employees because there aren't enough of
AMP Section Name:War & Disaster Profiteering
  • 23 Private Security