Sunday, March 18, 2012

Nicol backs call for investigation of DPS' border security contracts

Rio Grande Guardian
March 18, 2012
by Raul de la Cruz

McALLEN, March 17 - Scott Nicol, a founder of the No Border Wall coalition, has backed calls for an investigation into the contracts between the Texas Department of Public Safety and Abrams Learning and Information Systems.

The request for the investigation has come from state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso.

In a letter sent last Friday to Comptroller Susan Combs, Rodriguez said the outsourcing of Texas border security operations to Abrams Learning & Information Systems (ALIS), a private consulting firm based in Arlington, VA, have raised “significant concerns” about the transparency of DPS' bidding and procurement processes as well as DPS' management of millions of state and federal taxpayer dollars.

Nicol welcomed the development.

“It is great that this may finally be receiving some well-deserved attention. State and federal governments should be outsourcing only those functions which they are incapable of accomplishing themselves, and certainly not asking contractors to develop their mission for them and sell it to the public,” Nicol said.

Nicol said a number of reports have come out over the years indicating that the Department of Homeland Security does much the same thing, and that in their tactical infrastructure office, in other words border wall contractors, outnumber federal employees.

“In Texas border security is apparently nothing more than a cash cow for contractors and a way for ambitious politicians to get their names in the papers,” Nicol said.

In his letter to Combs, Rodriguez pointed to a State Auditor's February 2012 report (SAO Report No. 12-019) of DPS. He also referenced recent media reports on the outsourcing of Texas border security operations to ALIS. He said the reports have raised significant concerns about the transparency of DPS' bidding and procurement processes as well as DPS' management of millions of state and federal taxpayer dollars.

“According to records from your office, ALIS has received nearly $20 million in payments from the state. After this initial review, numerous questions arose regarding the determination of ALIS as a "sole source vendor" as well as the lack of any meaningful performance or accountability measures,” Rodriguez wrote.

“Furthermore, the issues surrounding these contracts bring to light a serious public policy consideration of whether the state of Texas should have outsourced the bulk of border security operations to a private company with negligible experience in international border operations.”

Rodriguez said that in an attempt to clarify the parameters of DPS's relationship with ALIS and to determine exactly what ALIS's contract deliverables were, he has posed several follow up questions and requested additional information from DPS in a letter to DPS Director Steve McCraw.

“In addition to the issues surrounding DPS's contracts with ALIS, the State Auditor's report raised numerous questions about DPS's procedures regarding procurement contracts. This independent report indicates that, on at least three occasions, DPS was unable to document why "emergency" action was necessary,” Rodriguez said.

“Not only was there pervasive abuse of the "emergency" contracting procedures by DPS, this appears to be part of a larger failure to open contracts to competitive bidding as required by state law. A startling 83 percent of the contracts reviewed by the State Auditor in the cluster of federal grants for homeland and border security were not bid competitively as required by state law.”

Other disturbing findings by the State Auditor, Rodriguez said, include duplicate payments made by DPS to sub-grantees and that DPS has no process in place to track federal sub-grants, in some cases paying for one program with federal funds intended for another.

“Given your agency's purview over the state bidding and procurement processes, I ask you to conduct a full investigation of DPS's contracts with ALIS as well as DPS's general policies for bidding and procurement. As the elected chief steward of the state's finances, I trust that you will share my concerns that Texans' taxpayer dollars are not being spent in an accountable, transparent manner,” Rodriguez said.

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