DHS agency issues payments to private security guards, reviews disputed claims

Federal officials reported this week that they have reviewed contracts with private security firms hired to guard federal facilities and have made overdue payments to them. But a lawmaker said she will continue to monitor the situation.

A report released by the Homeland Security Department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the bureau paid more than $2.6 million in undisputed claims by Aug. 3, and planned to review another $3.8 million of disputed invoices.

But Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said the House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, which she chairs, will continue to monitor the disputed claims.

Norton said that reforms at ICE -- including appointing an ombudsman to oversee the bureau's invoicing system and providing training for contract guard vendors -- will help "eliminate security risks to federal employees where they work."

The report detailed steps the agency had taken since July to solve problems with its invoicing system. ICE has appointed additional financial personnel to "provide hands-on support" to the Federal Protective Service, the agency responsible for managing contract guards. ICE also sent a memo on July 30 to all its contract guard vendors on new consolidated invoice procedures and instituted weekly status reports and conference calls to assess progress on contract guard payments.

The report says the agency would continue to make adjustments "if needed."

Norton requested the ICE report to assess progress on paying contract guards, some of whom claimed in July that they had gone into bankruptcy or been forced to borrow money because the government did not pay them in a timely manner. Some vendors found it difficult to meet their payroll requirements as a result.

"This large amount in overdue, undisputed claims from FPS endangered security at federal sites because it carried the risk that guards would fail to show up for work," Norton said.

Norton also has proposed the Federal Protective Service Guard Contracting Reform Act, which would prohibit the federal government from contracting with companies owned, controlled or operated by people who have been convicted of felonies. Norton wrote the bill in response to the discovery that STARTECH International Security, a private guard vendor, had received funds from the government but had not paid its employees. STARTECH's owner had served time in prison for fraud.

The bill has passed the subcommittee and will face full committee review in September.

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