‘Beleaguered’ Homeland Security agency wastes $57 million on failed computer contract
A scandal involving $57 million in government contract dollars is set to rock the Federal Protective Service, a small agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans have criticized the service in recent years, and both law enforcement reform organizations and labor unions have excoriated its managers for their handling of a 2008 project plagued by scheduling delays, cost overruns and conflicts of interest.
California Republican Rep. Dan Lungren has called a hearing for Tuesday before his House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies. The hearing will focus on the service’s continued failure to manage a computer software contract meant to reform its oversight of private security forces.
FPS is a law enforcement agency charged with overseeing a force of approximately 13,000 private sector security guards, employed by 38 contractors, who protect nearly 9,000 federal buildings. Homeland Security Today reported on July 3 that FPS “budgeted $775 million for private guards in fiscal year (FY) 2012 and expects to pay $796 million for them next year.”
The agency also directly employs about 1,200 workers, most of whom oversee the private-sector security contractors.
In 2007, while FPS fell under the management umbrella of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, it began developing the Risk Assessment and Management Program (RAMP), a computer program intended to streamline the management of those security contracts and oversight of the guards themselves. RAMP was to be FPS’s largest contracted program, projected to roll out July 31, 2009, at a cost of $21 million.
In August 2008, a contract for that $21 million deal was “competitively awarded” to Booz Allen Hamilton. Homeland Security Today reported in April that the deal was to last seven years.
Despite systemic problems with RAMP and a series of warnings and criticisms from auditors and whistle-blowers, government bureaucrats in both Republican and Democratic administrations kept the program alive.
Separate reports, by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in July 2011 and DHS’s Office of Inspector General in March 2012, found that agency bureaucrats, led by FPS Risk Management Division Director Susan Burrill, overspent on RAMP and were far behind schedule — with nothing to show for the $21 million outlay, spent in its entirety after just two years.
“In an attempt to meet deployment milestones, FPS expended all $21 million of obligated funds by 2010, 5 years sooner than expected,” the inspector general declared in that report.
Yet Booz Allen won a second award to work on RAMP. “In May 2010, ICE awarded the original developer a second contract, called a logical follow-on, to continue RAMP development and prepare for the transition to NPPD,” the inspector general reported.
NPPD is the National Protection and Programs Directorate, an agency that took over FPS’s operation in October 2009, when President Barack Obama signed Homeland Security appropriations legislation that removed it from ICE’s umbrella.
Burrill received an award at a trade convention in late May 2010 for her work on the soon-to-fail RAMP program.
On its blog, DHS bragged that Burrill “was honored for her work,” writing that she was one of eight out of 100 nominees who won NextGov awards for “forward-thinking technology solutions” that year.
Shortly after the May 2010 decision to double down on RAMP, DHS leadership reassigned then-FPS director Gary Schenkel to a job in department headquarters. Government Executive, a trade publication, reported that the move came in the wake of criticisms from GAO about gaps in federal building security.
The RAMP program had not received much investigative or congressional scrutiny before Schenkel’s removal from FPS, but his reassignment bolstered demands from Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson for an investigation. “Until these issues are resolved our federal buildings and the federal employees who work in them remain vulnerable,” Thompson said in May 2010. “As the department looks for a new FPS director, it must continue to move forward with renewal and reform at this beleaguered agency.”
In September 2010, Obama appointed L. Eric Patterson to lead FPS, a position he has held until now. Patterson is a former principal at Booz Allen, according to his biography on the DHS website.
The inspector general determined that upon taking the job, Patterson apparently decided to stop developing RAMP. Still, he authorized further payments to Booz Allen to maintain the RAMP system containing all the agency’s data until either a replacement is found or FPS determines how to redeploy the information into a new system.
Rep. Thompson’s objections caught GAO’s attention in 2011. The agency issued a scathing report in July 2011, concluding that RAMP was “over budget, behind schedule, and cannot be used to complete FSAs [facility security assessments] and reliable guard inspections as intended.”
Patterson’s inaction has now continued for nearly two years, enriching Booz Allen in the process, without a viable solution on the table. GAO’s Mark Goldstein told Homeland Security Today this month that problems inside FPS “remain outstanding and continue to challenge them.”
Andy Priest, who leads the FPS reform group Project1949, told The Daily Caller that “RAMP is the black sheep that everyone in FPS wishes could go away.”
“When Director Patterson was appointed from Booz Allen Hamilton to the FPS it was no secret that RAMP was a serious problem,” Priest wrote in an email. “Yet there was no action taken on RAMP for over a year.”
“The 9/11 Commission said that one of the biggest failures in the national security community was a lack of imagination to face the threats of the future,” Priest added. “You have to wonder about how neglected an agency must be for its own chief executive to be left unaware of what is taking place. This is a 1,200-man agency; it shouldn’t take another ten years to solve the problems that have spent ten years being discovered.”
FPS spokesman Robert Winchester refused to answer questions. Instead, he referred TheDC to Department of Homeland Security NPPD spokesman Bob Davis, who pointed to testimony Patterson has given to Congress. Patterson told lawmakers that he was planning development of a “second generation of RAMP” that would “address GAO’s recommendations.”
That was more than a year ago.
When pressed to say whether Patterson made any decisions that resulted in payments to Booz Allen, Davis said, “The answer is no.”
That stands in direct contradiction to the inspector general’s report, however, which said, “FPS officials told us that the FPS director reached this decision after he, senior FPS officials, program managers, and end users held a series of meetings at headquarters and regional offices to discuss problems with RAMP.”
Despite’s Patterson decision to stop RAMP’s development, the system is still in use and Booz Allen is earning money by keeping it operational. “Although FPS is no longer developing RAMP,” the report added, “it is still using the system to manage its guard force through post inspections.”
Davis also refused to answer whether DHS stood by its praise for Burrill when she received the award from NextGov.
“Booz Allen is very proud of the important work we perform for our clients within the Department of Homeland Security,” company spokesman James Fisher told TheDC, “but we would refer any questions on this program to the agency.”
FPS is required to have a plan in place to fix RAMP’s problems by the end of July. As of early April 2012, the agency had no plan.
Homeland Security Today reporter Kelley Vlahos suggested this month that FPS itself may be on the chopping block. The agency didn’t return her requests for comment, she reported. While she was working on the story, DHS deleted the page that explained RAMP in detail from its website’s section covering FPS. A link to the nonexistent page, however, remained on the agency’s home page.
DHS headquarters spokesman Bob Davis told TheDC that “FPS is currently updating all of its webpages.” But that RAMP page is the only one missing in its entirety.
“The first phase of that process was to remove programs, initiatives and data that was no longer valid,” Davis wrote in an email. “Since the information on the RAMP webpage was no longer valid, FPS removed the content.”
Public sector unions are upset with this program’s failed implementation. “Everything that we said was wrong [with RAMP] was determined to be true,” said David Wright, president of the American Federation of Government Employees local that represent FPS officers, according to Homeland Security Today.
“I’m afraid we aren’t going to be able to salvage anything [from RAMP],” Wright added.