NCS Pearson Agrees to Fine Over Airport Screeners

A TSA contractor at the center of a homeland security contracting debacle several years ago has agreed to pay "$5.6 million to resolve allegations that it submitted false claims in connection with a contract" to help the agency hire airport security screeners, the Justice Department said in a brief statement.

NCS Pearson Inc. was hired by the TSA to help quickly build a government screening workforce, including hiring and training, following the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Investigators alleged that Pearson "overcharged TSA in connection with that contract by billing incorrect rates for subcontractor labor."

Working together on the investigation were Justice's civil division, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general's office and the Defense Contract Audit Agency.

"Today's settlement again demonstrates the Department's commitment to protecting taxpayer funds from misuse by those doing business with the federal government," Gregory G. Katsas, Assistant Attorney General for the Department's Civil Division, said in a statement.

Pearson was the subject of probes almost from the start of its contract with the TSA. The Post devoted ample ink to questions about Pearson's approach to the contracting and the bills it submitted to the government.

A lot of bills. Big bills. $741 million in bills.

As noted in the Post story, those bills included:

"$526.95 for one phone call from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Chicago to Iowa City.

"$1,180 for 20 gallons of Starbucks Coffee -- $3.69 a cup -- at the Santa Clara Marriott in California.

"$1,540 to rent 14 extension cords at $5 each per day for three weeks at the Wyndham Peaks Resort and Golden Door Spa in Telluride, Colo.

"$8,100 for elevator operators at the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan.

"$5.4 million claimed for nine months' salary for the chief executive of an 'event logistics' firm that received a contract before it was incorporated and went out of business after the contract ended.

"Those details are contained in a federal audit that calls into question $303 million of the $741 million spent to assess and hire airport passenger screeners for the newly created Transportation Security Administration after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The audit, along with interviews with people involved in the passenger-screener contract, paints a rare and detailed portrait of how officials at the fledgling agency lost control of the spending in the pell-mell rush to hire 60,000 screeners to meet a one-year congressional deadline.

"The audit, performed by the Defense Contract Audit Agency at the TSA's behest, spotlights scores of expenses: $20-an-hour temporary workers billed to the government at $48 per hour, subcontractors who signed out $5,000 in cash at a time with no supporting documents, $377,273.75 in unsubstantiated long-distance phone calls, $514,201 to rent tents that flooded in a rainstorm, $4.4 million in "no show" fees for job candidates who did not appear for tests."

Was that really five years ago? Oh, how time flies.

By Robert O'Harrow |  November 20, 2008; 7:08 AM ET Contract workers
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