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[ISN] DHS OIG: Transportation Security Agency Criticized



Forwarded from: Richard Forno <rforno@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/20/politics/20security.html

By ERIC LIPTON
April 20, 2005

WASHINGTON, April 19 - The Transportation Security Administration
wasted money on an operations office lavishly equipped with artwork,
tens of thousands of dollars of silk flowers, expensive kitchen
equipment and a state-of-the-art fitness center with towel service,
according to a report by the inspector general of the Homeland
Security Department that was released on Tuesday.

Some of those supplies were improperly bought from a company owned by
an acquaintance of the agency's project manager, according to the
report.

The spending occurred in 2003 while the agency was setting up a $19
million transportation security center in Herndon, Va., for 79
full-time employees. The site includes seven kitchens and a fitness
center more than half the size of one that serves nearly 7,000
employees at the agency's headquarters, the report says.

"Breakdowns in management controls left the project vulnerable to
waste and abuse," says the report by Richard L. Skinner, the
department's acting inspector general.

The critique was released on the same day that Mr. Skinner published
separate reports concluding that the Transportation Security
Administration's airport screeners had made no progress since 2003 in
detecting weapons or explosives and asserting that the agency was not
taking enough steps to prevent its staff from stealing items from
passengers' bags during inspections.

"Three and a half years after those horrific terrorist attacks and
there is still a vital need for security improvements," said
Representative John L. Mica, the Florida Republican and chairman of a
House aviation subcommittee who released the results of the audit
related to weaknesses in weapons screening last Friday. "We have given
them time to try to work out the kinks."

Agency officials did not dispute that at least one employee who had
managed the construction of the Transportation Security Operations
Center in Herndon, appeared to have broken department rules, adding
that they have referred the case to the Department of Justice for
possible prosecution. But they rejected the inspector general's
assertions that the inappropriate spending occurred because of
management failures, saying that the agency was justified in rushing
to open the center and that supervisors detected the wrongdoing long
before the audit.

"The report does not recognize the absolute criticality of achieving
command and control over aviation security incidents as rapidly as
possible," said a letter written by David M. Stone, the assistant
secretary for the agency.

Mr. Stone also defended much of the extra spending at the
transportation security center, saying that it was designed to serve
during emergencies and other major national security events to handle
a larger number of employees.

The inspector general disagreed.

The agency project manager, who was not named in the report, asked the
contractor to disguise $252,392 worth of artwork, $29,032 for an art
consultant, $30,085 on silk plants and $13,861 on lamps and other
items as "equipment and tools," instead of "enhancements" as they had
been described on the first invoice, the report said.

To avoid a $2,500 cap on purchases made with a special agency buying
card, it said, the project manager and two other agency employees also
routinely split up the transactions into as many as 22 pieces, hiding
the purchase of leather briefcases, loveseats, armoires and coffee
pots.

The agency project manager also approved the installation of nine
microwave ovens, four ice makers and 10 refrigerators, including two
high-priced Sub-Zero models, for the center, the report said. It
called the expenditures wasteful, even if the building was used by
more people during emergencies.

When some agency staff members objected to the spending practices, the
audit says, they were told, "I'll give you the money, just do it,"
because "the culture at T.S.A. is the mission supersedes the process."

The report on agency measures to prevent theft of jewelry or other
valuables from airline passengers' baggage said that since January
2003, 37 baggage screeners had been fired for theft. The agency has
also paid $736,000 to settle claims about missing items. The inspector
general said he could not estimate how many times thefts had occurred
or divide blame between agency screeners and other airport or airline
employees who also have access to bags. He urged the agency to install
video cameras to try to prevent such crimes.

The third report, on the effectiveness of screening to detect weapons
or explosives, found that there had been no major progress since a
2003 inspection in the rate at which agency workers caught undercover
investigators carrying fake weapons or explosives. Hundreds of tests
were conducted at 15 airports from November through February. Actual
results were not disclosed, as they are classified, but Representative
Mica said they were extremely disappointing.

"The lack of improvements since our last audit indicates that
significant improvement in performance may not be possible without
greater use of technology," the report says. It was referring to
machines that more thoroughly screen passengers for explosives before
they enter a secure area, instead of a metal detector check, as is now
most often done.

Agency officials said they agreed with this conclusion, adding that
until they can buy new equipment, "we will continue to seek
incremental gains in screener performance through training, testing
and management practices."



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