Contract security guard program to see changes

A House lawmaker and the head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau on Tuesday will jointly announce changes to the handling of contract guards that oversee federal facilities.

Ernestine Fobbs, a spokeswoman for ICE, said Assistant Secretary Julie Myers will hold a press conference to announce efforts to "streamline the process of billing and make it more accurate and efficient." ICE houses the Federal Protective Service, which is responsible for security at federal facilities.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., plans to announce and file a bill prohibiting FPS from entering into contracts with security companies owned or controlled by felons.

The announcements follow several contentious congressional hearings on contract guards, and come a week after guards in the Washington area walked out because they did not receive pay checks.

Norton's bill stems from the case of Systems Training and Research Technologies (STARTECH), a security company under contract with FPS that failed to pay its employees for as many as six weeks. During a June 21 hearing, Ann Marie Messner, former chief operating officer and general manager of STARTECH, testified that the failure to make payroll was a direct result of gross mismanagement at the hands of Weldon Waites, STARTECH's vice president for business development.

Before becoming involved in the company, Waites was convicted of conspiracy, bank fraud and money laundering and served almost five years in jail. His felon status did not come to the attention of FPS during the contracting process because while the Waites family owns 75 percent of STARTECH shares, the ownership was listed under the name of Sharon Waites, Weldon's wife.

The contract companies are not the only ones taking heat. The Homeland Security Department, of which ICE is a part, has been criticized for failing to pay the firms in a timely manner.

Payment issues reached a critical point last week when contract guards at federal facilities in the Washington area walked out because they had not been paid. Their employer, Jenkins Security, said the company was unable to pay the guards because it was owed $1.8 million by DHS.

In letter to Myers released Monday, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, expressed extreme concern over the walkout.

"This incident lends even greater weight to the department's deputy inspector general's prediction that 'inadequate contractor oversight can result in . . . placing FPS-protected facilities, employees and facility visitors at risk,' " Thompson wrote. "Certainly if guards leave their posts, employees and visitors may be placed at risk. It begs credulity to believe otherwise."

Thompson asked ICE to provide the committee with documentation of FPS Director Gary Schenkel's claim in a May 1 hearing that the agency has a 99.7 percent completion rate on invoice payments.

Oversight of FPS contracts has been a subject of congressional focus since the announcement earlier this year of a DHS plan to cut FPS jobs and put a greater focus on contract guards.

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