Waste, possible fraud reported at TSA
From Jeanne Meserve
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Transportation Security Administration official spent $500,000 on art, silk plants and other decorations for a new operations center and then went to work for the vendor after leaving the agency, according to a report from the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general.
The report found that self-imposed deadline pressures, combined with "inappropriate decision-making by individuals who operated with unchecked autonomy" led to waste and abuse in the construction process.
The operations center, located just outside Washington, has a 4,200-foot fitness center with a towel laundry service for 79 federal employees. It also has seven kitchens equipped with refrigerators, microwave ovens, ice makers and dishwashers.
The report said that the center's offices and work stations were larger than federal standards allow and that most had cable television.
The inspector general found that the project manager and other TSA employees routinely violated agency policies to buy furniture, leather briefcases, coffee pots and other items.
They concealed purchases of more than $2,500, including one for $47,449, by splitting them into several credit card transactions, the report said.
The report said that higher-ups at the TSA "quashed" efforts by procurement managers to exercise control.
A project oversight board eventually was formed, but it "did not provide control and oversight to ensure adherence to applicable procurement regulations and policy," the report said.
TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield said an internal audit uncovered the "waste and procurement shortcomings, and even potential fraud," and officials asked the inspector general to investigate.
Hatfield said the $500,000 purchase of decorations has been referred to the U.S. Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. The report didn't identify the former official allegedly involved.
Hatfield said that even though the project was done under "aggressive deadlines," there was "no justification for intentional fraud."
He said procurement controls, which were fledgling or nonexistent at the time, are now in place to "ensure the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars and the most competitive procurement practices in the federal government."