In the rush to hire airport screeners after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the newly formed Transportation Security Administration spent as much as $143,432 per screener on recruitment in Topeka, Kan., according to a report released Monday.
The TSA hired a company, NCS Pearson, to recruit screeners soon after Congress ordered it to replace private airport screeners with a government work force by Nov. 19, 2002.
Lawmakers later criticized the TSA for its spending after they learned the recruiters worked out of lavish resort hotels with golf courses, pools and spas.
The new report, written by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general, concluded that the TSA didn’t have the staff or organization needed to manage such a contract.
“As a result, TSA made critical decisions without the benefit of sound acquisition planning or adequate cost control,” said the report by Inspector General Richard Skinner.
The agency replied that it now has 94 people to control and monitor costs. It also said it does a better job of keeping track of funds and is establishing a system of internal controls.
The inspector general acknowledged that those improvements “should help to prevent such circumstances from occurring in the future.”
Wyden: Agency ‘asleep at the wheel’
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who requested the report, said he was concerned that there was a larger problem. “It looks like TSA was asleep at the wheel here, failing to safeguard the taxpayer’s money,” he said in a statement.
“TSA managers simply didn’t care,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who also asked for the report. “They gave the contractor a blank check.”
Among the mistakes the TSA made, according to the report:
- Without analyzing the cost, the TSA ordered NCS Pearson to switch from using its own facilities to setting up about 150 temporary assessment centers.
- The TSA changed and delayed the schedule and requirements for the 56,267 screeners hired at about 430 airports.
- It underestimated the rate at which applicants would be rejected.
NCS Pearson ultimately assessed 129,000 candidates, more than nine times the number originally estimated, in 13 weeks, or less than half the time originally allotted, the report said. The cost rose from an initial estimate of $104 million to a final settlement of $741 million.
Pearson spokesman David Hakensen said the company had no comment because it hadn’t seen the report yet.
The price tag for the contract increased largely because of the TSA’s requirements for the temporary assessment centers, the inspector general said.
TSA, Telluride division
Each center had to have plenty of space and high-speed telecommunications connections. It had to be available for weeks, and it had to be within a two-hour drive from the airports for which screeners were being recruited.
One site was the posh Wyndham Peaks Resort in Telluride, Colo., which ultimately cost the government $39,727 for each person hired. The inspector general said most other hotels in the area couldn’t meet the TSA’s criteria.
The inspector general was asked specifically to account for the cost of the Telluride assessment center, which was widely reported in the news media. Though it was only the 18th most expensive location per hire, Telluride illustrated how the process drove up costs in other places such as Topeka.
NCS Pearson’s bill for the assessment centers totaled $435 million — $30 million alone for airports in the New York City area.
Starting from scratch
In the TSA’s defense, the report said it only had 12 employees at its inception in November 2002. The agency didn’t know how many screeners would be required or how much recruitment would cost. Nor did the TSA have complete control over the process, since the Office of Management and Budget and Congress had input into how many screeners would be hired.
The report noted the agency borrowed executives from government and private companies to carry out Congress’s post-Sept. 11 orders for security improvements. “They had little or no federal acquisition process training or experience,” the report said.
NCS Pearson is now Pearson Government Solutions, based in Arlington, Va.