Monday, December 25, 2006

The Department of the Interior: One More Time

Today is Christmas, but it's beginning to look like the Department of the Interior has been busy dispensing gifts all year long. Most of the time the presents went to the big oil companies, but now we learn that the gift list includes all sorts of contractors as well. From today's Washington Post:

The Defense Department paid two procurement operations at the Department of the Interior to arrange for Pentagon purchases totaling $1.7 billion that resulted in excessive fees and tens of millions of dollars in waste, documents show.

Defense turned to Interior, which manages federal lands and resources, in an effort to speed up its contracting. Interior is one of several government agencies allowed to manage contracts for other agencies in exchange for a fee.

But the arrangement between Interior and Defense "routinely violated rules designed to protect U.S. Government interests," according to draft audit documents obtained by The Washington Post.

...The findings prompted the inspector general's office to demand that the Pentagon stop using Interior's contracting shops.

More than half of the contracts examined were awarded without competition or without checks to determine that the prices were reasonable, according to the audits by the inspectors general for Defense (DOD) and Interior (DOI). Ninety-two percent of the work reviewed was awarded without verifying that the contractors' cost estimates were accurate; 96 percent was inadequately monitored.
[Emphasis added]

And just what kind of contracts were awarded and to whom? This will curl your hair:

In one instance, Interior officials bought armor to reinforce Army vehicles from a software maker. In another, Interior bought furniture for Defense from a company that apparently had not previously been in the furniture business. One contract worth $100 million, to lease office space for a top-secret intelligence unit in Northern Virginia, was awarded without competition. Defense auditors said that deal cost taxpayers millions more than necessary, and they have referred the matter for possible criminal investigation.

Keep in mind that the Defense Department has its own procurement section and should have been doing this work itself. The excuse given was that this particular section is underfunded, and the Department figured it could save time and money by going to the Department of the Interior, which is an interesting wrinkle in the outsourcing game. I suppose an argument can be made that awarding contracts without a bidding process and without checking the numbers does in fact speed up the process, but in that process, money is lost, not saved.

While it's nice to see the Inspectors General and the Department of Justice get involved, all of this is after the fact. The money has already been paid out, and the system in place pretty much assures us that the scam will continue. It's time for Congress to get involved. Hearings which include a complete top-to-bottom review of the Department of the Interior should be on the agenda for 2007. It's time to root out the crooks, many of them appointees of the current administration.

That would be a nice Christmas present to the American public for 2007.

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