Report by Homeland Security IG details unjustified spending,
shortchanging of lower-level employees
What government agency
awards "lifetime achievement" awards when the agency is only two
years old, in the middle of a hotel celebration for which the bill
includes $81,000 for plaques and $500 for cheese displays?
If you guessed the Transportation Security Agency, give yourself
a reward. Then again, considering the agency's history of lavish,
unjustified spending, perhaps it wasn't that hard of a
The Associated Press has obtained an internal report written by
the Homeland Security Department Inspector General's office. The
subject of the report was a TSA awards ceremony at the Grand Hyatt
Hotel in Washington (DC), one of the nation's capital's most
expensive hotels. At the activity, some 543 TSA employees and 30
organizations received awards, including one "lifetime achievement"
award given to an employee. Keep in mind, the TSA itself is only
two years old.
The entire activity
cost over $461,745, including some $200,000 spent on travel and
lodging for the attendees. The investigation also found that the
TSA gave its senior executives bonus checks of, on average,
$16,000. That is more than any other federal government agency has
given to other employees. In addition, the IG's office found that
the TSA failed to document adequate justification for the bonuses
in more than a third of the 88 cases that it audited.
The report also said that the agency had shortchanged many
low-level employees, a far lower percentage of which received
bonuses. "A substantial inequity exists in TSA's performance
recognition program between executive and non-executive employees,"
the report said.
The response from TSA
spokesperson Amy von Walter? The agency believes the bonuses and
the party were justified, "given the hours and productivity of the
work force during this critical period." This after a recent report
found that undercover agents were able to bring explosives,
firearms and other weapons through security checkpoints and into
airliners, right under the noses of the screeners the TSA is
supposed to train. The report states the TSA chose the Hyatt
because it was the only hotel available on the date of the second
anniversary of the agency, November 19, 2003, and it was allegedly
the only one that could accommodate 1200 people, half of them
honorees, the other half guests.
In a rare show of bipartisan displeasure, members of Congress
and the Senate are both criticizing the agency. Even the
Republicans are complaining that the agency has grown much larger
than they intended, though politicians well know that any new
bureaucracy will grow uncontrollably if not responsibly
On top of everything else, DHS IG Clark Kent Ervin is also
investigating reports the agency's recruiters have been operating
out of lush resort hotels equipped with golf courses, pools and
spas, while the employees they seek are offered little more than
minimum wage pay.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he had not seen the full report
but it appears it indicates "a colossal waste of money." He added
"There's something terribly wrong with that agency. Of all the
agencies, that's the one that's supposed to be working full-time
against terrorist attacks."
The DHS IG report found that the TSA sought competitive bids for
party planning services, and chose the lowest bidder, but it also
found the "costs of the ceremony and reception were higher than
necessary." The company chosen to provide the services, MarCom
Group Inc. of Fairfax (VA), billed $85,552 for its work, and was
paid an additional $81,767 for plaques, $5,196 for photographic
services, $1,486 for three balloon arches and $1,509 for signs.
The IG also stated the
TSA issued bonuses that were more generous than other federal
agencies. On average, government agencies pay bonuses to just under
half of its executive employees. The TSA paid bonuses to over
three-quarters of their executives in 2003. On top of that, a
review of 88 employee files found that over a third of them "had no
individual recommendation and justification for the performance
award." The report added that "The legitimacy of such large awards
is called into question by the lack of an appropriate selection
process and the reliance on boilerplate justifications that could
be applicable to anyone."
On the other hand, less than 3% of non-executive employees
received bonuses in 2003. The TSA responded with a statement that
executives who received bonuses did not receive increases in pay
and were not elegible for a presidential awards program that could
have netted them as much as 35% of their base pay.
Not surprisingly, the agency did state that more could be done
to make sure lower-level employees are rewarded in an equitable
manner as compared to top executives.