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Report Finds Abuse of Homeland Security Contracts

A congressional report to be released Thursday has found dozens of Homeland Security Department contracts worth $34 billion were prone to wasteful spending, overcharges, and abuse stemming from an increase in no-bid deals and a shortage of managers.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The Department of Homeland Security was created three years ago to consolidate the work of 22 federal agencies under one cabinet-level executive. It was seen as the best way to coordinate and oversee all of the increased spending on domestic security in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

    Now, a new congressional survey of spending by the department reveals big problems with the way homeland security contracts have been priced and awarded.

    Among its findings, 32 department contracts, totaling $34 billion, were plagued by waste, abuse or mismanagement. The value of no-bid contracts DHS awarded over the past three years increased by 739 percent, and 55 percent of all DHS contracts awarded in 2005 were no-bid.

    For more, we're joined by Griff Witte of the Washington Post, who reported on the congressional findings in this morning's edition.

    Welcome to the program. In the report and in the hearings that followed, did they get at how this all happened, in addition to counting up the eye-popping numbers involved?

  • GRIFF WITTE, The Washington Post:

    They did. They looked at specifically, as you said, about 32 contracts overall, collectively worth about $34 billion. And what they found in those contracts, which covered a myriad of areas of homeland security, ranging from border security, to the response to Hurricane Katrina, to screening passengers, to screening baggage at the airports, and what they found essentially was that there were a few different things that went on.

    One was that you had programs that just simply did not work. You had, for instance, a border security contract in which there were supposed to be some very high-tech cameras mounted along the border that would detect whether illegal immigrants were trying to cross.

    But those cameras, in actuality, did not work. They would malfunction in cases where there was extreme heat or extreme cold, where there was ice, snow, where there was humidity. So in these cases, which are, as you can imagine, pretty common along the borders, the systems just simply broke down. They did not do the job.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    In example of cases like the one you just cited, is anyone punished? Is anyone made to account for the fact that a product was sold that simply did not work?

  • GRIFF WITTE:

    That's one of the troubling things that Congress is very interested in right now, is that the government doesn't have a whole lot of tools at its disposal to go after contractors when things like this occur. And there are some cases where award fees were withheld, where the contractors did not get the bonuses they were expecting to get.

    But in many cases, the contractor simply got the money that they were supposed to get, and in cases — in quite a few cases, actually, they got a lot more money than initially was expected. And whether the system worked or not, the contractors were paid.

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