TSA: Taxpayer-soaking agency

Michelle Malkin

3/14/2003 12:00:00 AM - Michelle Malkin

The Transportation Security Administration is a fiscal black hole, and fiscal conservatives ought to be enraged.

Instead, the Bush/GOP-backed bureaucracy headed by semi-conscious Democrat Norm Mineta is thriving. Sucking down tax dollars like a bagless Dyson Cyclone vacuum gone berserk.

Already, the 1-year-old agency has amassed a $3.3 billion budget deficit and is demanding upward of $6 billion for the current fiscal year. Never has a single government entity spent so much for so little in such a short amount of time. Department of Transportation Inspector General Kenneth Mead (at least he, unlike many transportation security employees, seems to be awake on the job) revealed last month that cost controls are as non-existent as common sense at TSA.

Nearly half a billion dollars in TSA funds earmarked to reimburse airports for bomb detection systems is missing. Gone. Wooosh. In addition, the agency quickly busted its congressional hiring cap -- it now employs 66,000 personnel despite a 45,000 full-time permanent employee limit. Of more than 600 people hired for non-screener positions, nearly 60 percent had salaries over $90,000, while more than 40 percent had salaries over $100,000.

A spending fiasco involving just one TSA contractor is instructive and appalling. Soon after its creation, TSA awarded a $104 million recruitment contract to NCS Pearson, praised by Secretary Mineta as a "terrific private-sector firm." The company did a terrific job -- of racking up charges and ripping off taxpayers. The contract ballooned nearly 600 percent, to $700 million.

With fiscal conservatives AWOL, it took two leftist Democrat senators this week to question an NCS Pearson splurge on behalf of 20 recruiters who spent nearly two months at a luxury resort in Telluride, Colo. Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Ron Wyden of Oregon have requested a probe of the seven-week junket that resulted in the hiring of just 50 new TSA employees.

The recruiters settled in at the Wyndham Peaks Resort and Golden Door Spa, whose Web site boasts "panoramic mountain views and ski in/ski out convenience, (plus) homelike amenities such as down comforters, CD players and VCRs, comfortable sleeper sofas (in rooms with king beds), and lavishly stocked refreshment centers."

To allay the stress of these TSA recruiters hard at work searching for screeners who could confiscate nail clippers and wand toddler shoes with a straight face while Mohammed Atta clones slip by, we taxpayers generously footed the bill for "oversize bathrooms (with) plush terrycloth robes and slippers . . . ideal for slipping away to the Golden Door Spa for a pampering treatment or relaxing massage."

Ahhh. Homeland security never felt so good.

According to the Associated Press, TSA spokesman Brian Turmail said the resort was chosen not for the fluffy slippers and teeming mini-bars, but "because it was the only one in the area that had the sophisticated telecommunications equipment that recruiters needed."

And that would be . . . the intercom system between the oversize bathrooms? The walkie-talkies for those on the ski lift trying to contact their colleagues at the massage parlor?

Elsewhere, NCS Pearson botched recruitment efforts as a result of a costly internal "process and coordination breakdown." Over a two-month period last summer, more than 1,100 people nationwide were hired but never called to duty. NCS Pearson and TSA apparently lost track of the new employees, many of whom had already quit their old jobs and were waiting to be called up for orientation. The Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune reports that TSA has promised to take on the lost employees, even though screener positions have already been filled.

NCS Pearson has since been replaced by TSA. But the firm still holds several lucrative federal contracts totaling more than $500 million -- including a $140 million deal to manage and operate three national customer-service call centers for federal immigration services.

Deeper into the homeland-security money pit we go. Where the traditional watchdogs for limited government are, nobody knows.