Airport security got old, shoddy equipment

/ Source: The Associated Press

For close to $1 billion, airport security officials think they ought to have closed circuit televisions that work, telephones that can put callers on hold and radios that reach all corners of the airport.

But some officials don’t have the equipment they need because the Transportation Security Administration didn’t keep proper tabs on its billion-dollar contract with Unisys, according to a Homeland Security Department inspector general report released Thursday.

Unisys performed so poorly that the inspector general, Richard Skinner, recommended that the project be put out for bid again.

“The original funding is almost exhausted but many airports still do not have basic information technology and a telecommunications infrastructure,” the report said.

“TSA has no assurances that costs for Unisys deliverables were fair and reasonable; Unisys was sometimes allowed to perform unauthorized contract work; and TSA did not effectively manage its project priorities,” the report said.

Blue Bell, Pa.-based Unisys did not reply to a request for comment.

Radios that didn’t get along
The federal officials who head airport security complained that Unisys supplied antiquated equipment and that their radios didn’t always communicate with each other inside the same concourse — a crucial function during an emergency.

“Much of what is handled by Unisys can be better performed by in-house employees at little or no cost to the government,” wrote one federal security director, who complained that a Unisys representative was required to upgrade software that a regular user could have updated easily.

Another complained that some cell phones — “a hodgepodge of $20 Radio Shack sale rack phones” — were so old they actually have a mechanical bell that rings.

The inspector general did note that TSA had an enormous task to take over airport security from private contractors. The agency had inadequate funding and staffing to oversee the contract, the report said.

The inspector general recommended that TSA put the contract out to bid again once the $1 billion is exhausted.

Contract will go out to bid
TSA agreed to do so and said it has strengthened its procurement oversight.

“TSA has implemented several changes since the DHS OIG (Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General) opened this audit and continues to make significant improvements within the Office of Acquisition,” agency chief Kip Hawley wrote in a memorandum.

The inspector general noted that TSA knew the contract could exceed $5 billion, but set a ceiling at $1 billion. The report said that when the inspector general asked TSA to explain the low ceiling, agency officials said it was based on “specific requirements.” However, the inspector general said the officials “could not document which specific requirements.”

The TSA, which was created shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, needed information technology and telecommunications for what it anticipated would be 65,000 employees at headquarters, 429 airports, 21 field offices and a command center, the report said.

Nearly two years late
Unisys was to have provided dial-up connections, laptops, pagers and cell phones by Nov. 19, 2002. Six weeks later, the company was to have delivered high-speed connections, phones, encrypted radios and an electronic surveillance system. Eventually, Unisys was to provide command centers at airports, advanced wireless communications and interoperable radios.

The inspector general said that the company had only supplied the first phase by Sept. 30, 2004.