Tuesday, October 11, 2005

More Bush Protection

Eric Alterman points the way to this Washington Post story. Seems that the Bushies decided to change the hiring methology for federal airline passenger screeners at the cost of $343 million and no one knows why the change was made or who was responsible for the decision.

"Homeland Security Department officials said the change was made in collaboration with the prime contractor, NCS Pearson Inc. They said the deciding factor was Pearson's failure to attract enough screener candidates to its own testing centers while hiring for Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Documents and interviews, however, show that the decision was contemplated before the contract was signed and was imposed by government officials well before the BWI project. Pearson officials said they never had a chance to try out their own testing approach.

Michael P. Jackson, deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department, said in a recent interview that the agency does not have paperwork to back up its account and that he cannot recall the details surrounding the decision.

"Honestly, I have no memory of it," said Jackson, who said he was ultimately responsible for the contract as second-in-command at the Transportation Department in 2002."

A three hundred million dollar decision to move the interview and evaluation of $10 an hour airport screeners from a broad network of established assessment centers to temporary quarters at high end hotels ("Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan; the Hawk's Cay Resort in Duck Key, Fla.; the Wyndham Peaks Resort and Golden Door Spa in Telluride, Colo.")

Do screeners from high end hotel interviews do a better job of protecting the public than those who showed up at the assessment center in some suburban strip mall?

"This did not happen in a single meeting," Jackson said. "This was the cumulative judgment of dozens and dozens of people, not only people at the TSA, but also people at Pearson."

Jackson said the deciding factor was the fact that NCS Pearson did not attract enough candidates to its own assessment centers when it was hiring screeners for BWI Airport in early June 2002.

"We went out to BWI, and we used it as a test bed," he said. "It just didn't work. We couldn't get the right number of people in the right amount of time."

But contracting documents contradict that. The documents show that Pearson executives were directed to use the air marshal approach by March, nearly three months before they screened candidates for the BWI jobs.

Pearson officials later told auditors for the Defense Contract Audit Agency that they believed that their plan would have worked. "The efficiencies of such an approach are obvious -- by utilizing an existing network of test centers, with existing infrastructure, the cost to TSA would be minimized," the company told the auditors, who were asked to review the burgeoning expenses by the TSA."

I feel much safer knowing that the low wage, no benefits flunky that is strip searching a 90 year old grandmother was recruited at one of the country's premier hotels.