TSA official under fire for waste, abuse and possible fraud

| 4/20/2005

Silk flowers. Expensive artwork. Laundry service. Cable television.

These may sound like the sort of things a pampered diva like Jennifer Lopez would demand in her dressing room on a concert tour. In reality, they are just a few of the things a Transportation Security Administration official is accused of purchasing for the agency’s $19 million crisis management center in Herndon, VA.

A new report from the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security accuses TSA of a breakdown in management and a lack of control over funding, which led to waste and abuse in the process of constructing the office building.

The report claims that the project manager for the center – who was not identified in the report – violated agency polices to purchase a number of unnecessary items for the center.

The center has a 4,200-square-foot fitness center with a towel laundry service; cable television in 45 offices; and seven kitchens featuring dishwashers, icemakers and refrigerators that cost upward of $3,000 each.

And, since you can’t provide decent security without artwork and other decorations, the project manager spent $252,392 on artwork, $29,032 on art consultants and $30,085 on silk plants, according to the report.

To get around limits on spending, the manager and other employees concealed purchases by splitting them up into several credit card transactions.

What’s more, the vendor who supplied those items and services added a 20 percent markup that totaled more than $174,000. And to add further insult to injury, the project manager went to work for this vendor after leaving TSA.

As if spending all of that money wasn’t enough, the report states that the project manager, along with others in the agency, pressured anyone who complained about the purchases into supporting the project manager.

The case as been referred to the U.S. Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution, according to CNN.

This is the latest in a long line of troubles for the beleaguered agency. In recent months, the group has come under fire from the trucking industry for the privatization of fingerprint and information collection for background checks.

And on April 8, TSA secretary David Stone announced his resignation, prompting many to speculate that the agency’s days may be numbered.

– By Terry Scruton, senior writer