Lawmaker probes contract oversight at DHS agency

Letters to key Homeland Security officials ask for more detail on the budget challenges facing the Federal Protective Service.

The conviction of a Homeland Security Department worker earlier this year for accepting bribes from a contractor he was supposed to be evaluating objectively is one of several "disturbing" issues a House member highlighted in recent letters to top agency officials.

The letters, sent last week by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and Richard Skinner, the department's inspector general, seek more information on a variety of challenges facing the department's Federal Protective Service. The questions cover everything from financial problems to contracting oversight.

Thompson's letter to Chertoff noted the January conviction of Michael Czecholinski, 53, a Federal Protective Service contracting officer's representative, for accepting bribes from contractor Superior Protection Inc. in return for favorable performance ratings. Czecholinski accepted a trip to Houston for a golf outing on the company's bill. He also pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Southern Texas to purposely misleading law enforcement officials.

Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, asked Chertoff if, considering the incident, DHS will enhance oversight and controls over its contracting officer program to prevent or detect criminal activity. The lawmaker said FPS oversees more than 500 contracts with private security firms. Those companies employ about 15,000 guards to protect federal buildings across the country, he stated.

Superior Protection paid for Czecholinski's flight to Houston from West Palm Beach, Fla., in April 2002, and the following month the contractor got the highest possible rating during a contracting evaluation process as it was bidding for several other contracts.

"FPS terminated all ... remaining contracts with Superior Protection back in July 2006," said Michael Keegan, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, of which FPS is a part. Keegan would not comment on whether there are other investigations still being conducted.

Superior Protection officials could not be reached for comment.

A source familiar with Czecholinski's conviction and the surrounding investigation said his positive evaluation helped influence other deals involving Superior Protection. On March 23, he will be sentenced; he faces up to five years' imprisonment and $250,000 in fines.

Thompson's letter to Chertoff also demanded more information about solutions FPS is developing to resolve budget issues. Fixes under consideration include eliminating more than 250 officer jobs, cutting retention bonuses and ceasing payment for FPS officer training courses. He also asked Chertoff to provide an update on how large a shortfall FPS is facing, citing estimates as high as $80 million.

"Staff reductions, budget shortfalls and inadequate contractor oversight may converge to hamper the operations of this agency," Thompson told Chertoff.

Thompson's letter to Skinner asked the IG to investigate what changes FPS had made as a result of his office's report citing flawed contractor oversight. Thompson requested that Skinner's office investigate a range of contracting issues.

Thompson isn't the only lawmaker looking into these issues. On the Senate side, the leaders of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee recently asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate budget shortfalls and other management challenges at FPS.