The Buzz

High-Cost Hiring

How does a contract to hire 30,000 airport screeners soar from $104 million to $741 million in just over a year? The Homeland Security Department's inspector general released the much-awaited answer in January: Screening job applicants at luxury hotels and resorts instead of existing office space was one of the key reasons for the sevenfold cost increase, the audit said.

The contract to hire the airport screeners for the Transportation Security Administration was awarded to Arlington, Va.-based NCS Pearson, now called Pearson Government Solutions. Congress created TSA in 2001 in response to Sept. 11, and required it to hire tens of thousands of airport screeners within a year.

The original plan called for NCS Pearson to use its existing office space to screen potential employees across the country. According to the report, within a month of awarding the contract, TSA changed its mind and asked Pearson to work in "temporary assessment centers," which often were hotels and expensive resorts.

"TSA did not specifically select the location of the temporary assessment centers, but was aware of the selection pro-cess as well as the selected hotels and expressed no concern regarding the use of resorts," the IG found. Ultimately, about 150 temporary assessment centers were chosen.

One site, the four-star Wyndham Peaks Resort in Telluride, Colo., cost the agency $1.7 million, or almost $40,000 per person hired there. TSA paperwork shows the Wyndham was chosen based on its availability and high-speed Internet connectivity. A higher than anticipated applicant rejection rate and a tighter time frame for hiring also increased costs, the IG said. The report did not examine Pearson's performance. The IG noted that some aspects of the contract still are being investigated.

Barry Piatt, spokesman for Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., says, "Costs were overrun because nobody at TSA cared about it. This new report shows the responsibility . . . was not just with NCS Pearson, but it was with TSA, [which] said, 'Go out and spend whatever you need, and call us when you're done.' "

In its official response to the report, TSA cited management changes it has made since the Pearson contract was initiated. The acquisition office has grown significantly, from two people to 94.

Interviewing in Luxury

A January report on hiring TSA baggage screeners showed that using hotels and resorts as employment centers vastly increased costs.

Site Cost
(in millions)
Cost per Person Hired
New York City $29.5 $14,469
Dallas-Fort Worth $16.2 $16,199
Los Angeles $14.4 $11,660
Rosemont/Chicago $11.5 $11,532
Boston $11.0 $15,801

Source: Homeland Security Department inspector general audit

Weathering 2005

Hurricanes, droughts, fire and rain set records in 2005, leading scientists to examine whether the tumultuous year signals an overall change in the global climate. It was the second warmest year on record, according to the National Academies, a group of independent, congressionally chartered research institutions

created to advise the government on scientific and technological matters. The academies, headquartered in Washington, receive no direct federal appropriations.

Africa was parched by drought and Europe got less than half its normal rainfall, while 18,200 people were killed when unprecedented rainfall hit India. Warming in the Arctic melted sea ice to an all-time low.

Last year brought the largest number of storms and hurricanes in documented history. Hurricane Wilma was the most intense ever. In June, Death Valley, Calif., suffered its most consecutive days at or above 125 degrees. Fed by dry and hot weather, the most active wildfire season in history singed more than 8.5 million acres. Yet the same year brought Massachusetts record snowfall and nine Northeastern states their wettest October.

The academies report that Earth's atmosphere is warming, up 1.4 degrees since the early 20th century with 0.9 degrees of that occurring in the past three decades. Scientists are trying to figure out whether that is natural, or a result of human activities that increase greenhouse gases. In addition, they're studying what actions to take to handle adverse effects of climate change, no matter its cause.

Bye, Hi

Hi, the high-quality lifestyle magazine aimed at improving America's image among young Arabs, is no more-at least for now. Publication was suspended in December for a review of whether the magazine was meeting its objectives. Hi was launched in July 2003 and ultimately, 55,000 copies were distributed free in 18 countries.

The magazine's Web site, will remain active. Like radio and TV broadcasts touting the United States, the magazine suffered from being labeled as merely propaganda in the Arab world. The January Web edition, like the magazine

published in English and Arabic, includes stories about life in Montana, the U.S. National Soccer team and family dinners.

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