Corruption Plagues Homeland Security Department

Published July 1, 2005

The U.S. Homeland Security Department has been hit with a string of embarrassing internal reports of incompetence and corruption, the most recent of which details the arrests of 146 workers and grant recipients and the identification of $18.5 million of improper spending.

The information is in a semi-annual report to Congress by Homeland Security’s inspector general. The Associated Press obtained the report before its release to the public and published a summary of the findings June 4.

Thefts, Misspending Found

According to AP reporter Lara Jakes Jordan, the 54-page report by Acting Inspector General Richard L. Skinner describes the findings of 325 internal investigations, audits, and inspections between October 2004 and March 2005. Those investigations netted $106 million in fines, restitutions, and other recovered funds in the six-month period.

Most of the arrests involved thefts of valuables from passenger luggage. In addition, the report identified $18.5 million of spending that could not be documented. Embarrassing findings about Homeland Security spending and management practices have been coming out since this spring.

For instance, on April 19 Skinner reported the Transportation Security Administration improperly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on artworks, silk flowers, state-of-the-art kitchen appliances, and fitness equipment. The TSA is a part of the Homeland Security Department.

“Breakdowns in management controls left the project vulnerable to waste and abuse,” said Skinner in releasing the report.

Staff Members Objected

The alleged waste and abuse occurred in 2003 at a $19 million transportation security center under construction in Herndon, Virginia. The center, with 79 full-time employees, has seven kitchens and a fitness center that is more than half the size of one that serves nearly 7,000 employees at the agency’s headquarters, according to Skinner’s report.

The report alleges the agency project manager, who was not named, told the contractor to disguise $500,000 of artwork, art consultant fees, silk plants, and furnishings. Those and other items were described as “equipment and tools,” according to the report.

The report also said that to avoid spending limits on individual purchases, transactions were routinely split into multiple purchases, for items including leather briefcases, armoires, and love seats.

Skinner’s audit notes some agency staff members objected to the spending but were told “the culture at T.S.A. is the mission supersedes the process.”

Official Defends Practices

In a letter defending the TSA’s spending practices, the agency’s assistant secretary, David M. Stone, wrote, “The report does not recognize the absolute criticality of achieving command and control over aviation security incidents as rapidly as possible.”

The agency acknowledges that at least one employee at the Herndon facility apparently broke departmental rules. The agency has referred the matter to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation.

Also in April, a Skinner report said 37 airport baggage screeners had been fired for theft of jewelry or other valuables from passenger’s luggage.

The TSA has paid $736,000 since 2003 to settle claims about missing items, according to the report.

Steve Stanek ([email protected]) is managing editor of Budget & Tax News.