Under the Radar

We noted in two earlier commentaries that certain practices of the Department of Homeland Security were being questioned by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The article that caught our attention and prompted our initial commentary, you’ll recall, began with the headline;

“GAO: DHS cooks performance results for new radiation detectors”

Eric Kulisch published his findings in American Shipper magazine and, thanks to his alertness, the matter has come to the attention of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. This past Tuesday Senator Schumer demanded that the DHS renegotiate contracts for 1,200 Advanced Spectroscopic Monitors that DHS Secretary Chertoff had decided to purchase and deploy at the nation’s ports and border crossings.

Senator Schumer also called for the department’s inspector general to review all DHS contracts related to the manufacture and installation of all next-generation detection technology after the inspector general had issued a critical report about the improper award of a no-bid contract for maintaining large-scale imaging machines.

“When the Department of Homeland Security messes up royally on such an important mission, it makes every American less secure and should make every American wonder about the towering incompetence of this department,” Senator Schumer said.

After congressional auditors had determined that tests had been rigged to enhance performance results, a House committee released news earlier this month that Secretary Chertoff had delayed certification and production of next-generation machines used to detect radiation in cargo and vehicles but only after investigators discovered that the new machines were no more accurate than existing technology. The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office had issued a $ 1.2 billion, five-year contract in July 2006 to purchase the new drive-by devices from favored defense contractors.

Senator Schumer said in a letter to Secretary Chertoff that the DHS should consider new contractors for the project and immediately seek to renegotiate its contracts with the device’s current manufacturers in order to offset the cost to the government from the extra rounds of testing the machines needed to certify the devices.

At the Customs Trade Symposium earlier this month, Chertoff said he slowed the march toward procurement to make sure that the technology works properly in real-world applications.

What he should have admitted was that the Senate and House Homeland Security committees, the GAO, Senator Schumer (and Eric Kulisch) are the ones that “slowed the march toward procurement”. But “procurement” will happen. Secretary Chertoff will see to that.

[Wouldn’t it be great if Senator Byrd, the first to spot this hoax, laid all the cards on the table?]