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Bribery-tainted limo firm has contract extended

/ Source: The Associated Press

A limousine company caught up in a congressional bribery scandal is having its Homeland Security contract extended, several months after angry Capitol Hill hearings into why the contract was awarded in the first place.

The Homeland Security Department notified Shirlington Limousine in recent weeks that it intended to exercise an option to extend its contract for transporting department employees around the Washington area, department spokesman Russ Knocke said.

The $21 million contract went into effect Oct. 27, 2005, with annual options for five years.

“Shirlington has consistently met its contractual obligations,” Knocke said, adding that the contract was being extended only temporarily and with the provision that it could be terminated at any time.

He said the extension would be in effect until the department finishes revamping its contracting processes in the winter or spring, at which point that contract and others would be rebid.

Shirlington, of Arlington, Va., is part of a federal investigation into whether a defense contractor provided disgraced former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California with prostitutes and limos. Cunningham is serving jail time for taking bribes from defense contractors. Shirlington’s president, Christopher Baker, has appeared before a grand jury in San Diego as part of the ongoing investigation.

A House Homeland Security subcommittee held a hearing over the summer on how Shirlington got two Homeland Security contracts, including the one last year, despite a history of problems. Baker has a criminal record and his company has been accused of poor service on other contracts, including one that was terminated by Howard University in 2002.

Curious circumstances
The hearing revealed some odd circumstances in how Shirlington got its first Homeland Security contract, including a letter of support sent by Cunningham several months before it was awarded.

Lawmakers suggested the contracting process had been manipulated, something DHS denied. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., demanded an inspector general investigation.

The news of the contract extension provoked some concern on Capitol Hill.

“We believe the extension of the Shirlington contract should only be for a limited time period. We will continue to monitor the situation,” Thompson, the Homeland Security Committee’s top Democrat, said in a statement Wednesday, noting that the inspector general review was ongoing.

“It is unconscionable that this company gets a lucrative contract extension while it is under serious federal investigation,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., another committee member.