Friday, March 16, 2012

DPS, private contractors, and the Great Public Relations Emergency of 2010

The Austin Statesman followed up on Tom Barry's piece at Alternet, discussed here, to provide more detail on the outsourcing of Texas border security to a private contractor called Abrams Learning and Information Systems Inc. (ALIS). Particularly fascinating in reporter Jeremy Schwartz's account is the rise of dissension within DPS as early as four years ago over the contracts, culminating in a budget request to replace them with DPS staff:
By 2008, at least some within DPS believed it was a bad idea — and too expensive — to give private contractors such responsibility over border security operations. In the agency's 2008 budget request to the Legislature, DPS asked for money to hire 19 state employees to replace the contract workers then staffing the border security operations and joint intelligence centers.

"It is more desirable and more cost effective to have state employees planning, coordinating, and evaluating joint state-local border security operations that involve more than $100 million in state appropriated funds," the document says.

Instead, the following year, Abrams received a $4.2 million contract in part to staff and provide "leadership" to the Border Security Operations Center, where it would produce plans, analyses and "decision support tools for Texas leadership."

That same year, 2009, the ALIS contract came under the purview of the Texas Rangers. By the next year, it was discontinued — because, officials said, the state could do the work itself for less money.

"The contract was coming to an end and when I looked at what (ALIS) was doing, I promoted people within the division to do the same jobs. It was more cost effective to do it ourselves," said former Ranger chief Tony Leal.
I also was unaware that in August of 2010 Texas faced a public relations "emergency," but that's the world the good folks at DPS apparently lives in:
In January 2010, DPS Director Steven McCraw told commissioners: "There's a tendency toward everything being an emergency. We recognize that's not the way to do business. We need to plan ahead."

But seven months later, DPS gave Abrams another emergency, no-bid contract, worth $1.4 million, in part to shape the state's public message on border security. ...

In August 2010, the DPS enlisted Abrams to develop a public and media outreach strategy to "position Texas border security efforts in a positive light," paying the firm to develop talking points, presentations, testimony and the "orientation" of senior government leaders. Abrams created a public relations campaign featuring 36 principal messages, including "The success of Texas border security and law enforcement efforts are critical to preserving you and your family's safety and way of life" and "Border Security is a Federal Responsibility but a Texas problem" — the exact language contained in an earlier Perry speech and a common refrain during Perry's presidential campaign.

A draft document obtained by the American-Statesman, titled "Border Security Public Outreach Themes and Messages," includes talking points that would seem to boost the firm's standing. In touting Operation Border Star, the state's principal border security strategy, the document says that law enforcement agencies "join with private companies" to "reduce border-related crime." The messages were meant to be used by the agency's public information department and to guide agency interactions with the media.

DPS officials say they contracted with ALIS on media outreach because they wanted the public to know about Mexican cartels recruiting Texas students to carry drugs and other threats such as smuggling operations and public corruption.
Sounds like the McCaffrey report and the recent Spring Break warning are all part of a broader public relations campaign. For that kind of money, there's likely more misinformation coming, or else this was the most expensive PR advice Texas taxpayers ever paid for.


Anonymous said...

Ya Grits! We know everybody on the border is in on it. YOU and the public deserve better. Beltway bandits are in on it. We are not in grave danger of the cartels, war on terror! DUH! Smokescreen. This is just press fuelled war on what? Drugs, terror? Move beyond this people. We are tired of the media selling us what?

At some point (Grits) you are selling this to the public. We kwow better.

I come around the backside. Scott and Grits have done a fine job exposing things. I support you in every way.

I'm pokin' you a little Scott, but thank you so much for what you have done! Mi hermano.

JH said...

A few weeks ago, I saw a tv show on Texas border security - had helicopter units, teams doing recon at the Rio Grande. I know at least one of the helicopter pilots was, and I think still is a DPS trooper. But it makes me wonder about all the rest.

tom said...

Grits is really reaching to make DPS/Perry et al look bad. Lots of smoke but not much fire here. Sounds like DPS responded in the most effective way to implement a gvt directive it was not prepared or organized to do internally. When it finally developed the abilty to perform the particular tasks assigned, the system moved to end consultant work and took over the responsibility internally. No big conspiracy here. Everything done according to laws in place by the Leg. If what they did was so bad, the Leg ought to change the laws. Sorry Grit..

Anonymous said...

You are right that DPS is not prepared to do this mission.

Jeff said...

Admittedly, this is a stretch at criticizing the Perry government. Everyone in government knows that if you are looking for a specific product you tailor the bid specs so only that product meets the specs. In this case, the bidding process was bypassed altogether in a lawful means that was reviewed by an oversight body and published publicly. Honestly, there is more shenanigans going on in federal government bids than Texas. Obviously if it took six years to be an issue, it wasn't much of an issue one, two, or three years ago. Timing seems to be a bit calculated,

Gritsforbreakfast said...

How is it that I'm doing the "stretching" when it's the Austin Statesman publishing the story? Also, Perry is barely mentioned in this post.

As for, "it wasn't much of an issue one, two, or three years ago" Is that really true, or is it just the case that no one knew about it?

Finally, since this didn't come out until AFTER Perry dropped out of the presidential race, how is it that the "Timing seems to be a bit calculated"?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

You are right that DPS is not prepared to do this mission.

3/17/2012 09:19:00 AM

You are correct DPS is not prepared to secure the border. DPS has huge manpower shortages in the Trooper ranks to the tune of 450+. DPS is way underfunded, at this time DPS is using monies from vacant Trooper salaries to pay the gasoline bill just to conduct regular patrol and investigative duties. This does not count border duties.

DPS cannot recruit qualified applicants when the current pay is compared to other large departments in the state. At this time pay lags 15-20K behind other large departments ie: Dallas, FWPD and others. Example, the last few recruit schools DPS has graduated have numbered between 30-50 new Troopers with only 1 or 2 schools a year. Just 10 years ago DPS was graduating 3-5 recruit schools per year with 50-75 new Troopers. In addition retirements are at an all time high as the work load from the vacancies has put more work on the plates of those who have stayed.

These are just some of the personnel problems plaguing DPS at the rank and file level.

So to put it bluntly DPS cannot secure the border and outsourced it to a private company.

Anonymous said...

CORRUPTION: TX DPS Purchasing and Executive Management's corruption is well known to vendors whom have tried doing business with the agency over the years only to experience being blocked from bidding.

Mike Ward (Austin American Statesman) a reporter and a number of concerned vendors met in downtown Austin in Summer of 2010 to discuss the amount of corruption taking place at TX DPS. Ward noted at that time there seemed to be a significant amount of internal collusion and corruption within the agency, including ties to Admiral Bobby Inman within the agency. Ward noted he was trying to get enough evidence to take things public however any Open Records Requests he made were always being blocked by the agency in the name of 'security'.

At that time an employee at TX DPS had approached numerous vendors regarding the corruption at the agency, and was a potential while-blower but elected to leave things alone as the employee was scared of being fired and harrassed. She was told to rubber stamp everything by TX DPS purchasing or get fired.

In fact, APPRIS got a $30 MILLION contract without ever going out to solicitation thanks to Governor Perry's intervention in telling his hench men to mark it as an Emergency Expenditure so it could be easily passed without any notice or questioning.

Vendors DO NOT WANT TO DO BUSINESS WITH TEXAS DPS as they know they're wasting their time, that corruption has been going-on at that agency for years now.

I hope Sen. Rodriguez along with TX Comptroller Susan Combs will investigate and tell the real truth what's going-on inside TX DPS however Comptroller Combs is a Republican and she's not going to go out on a limb when she's got other political ambitions.

WHERE THERE'S POWER THERE'S CORRPTUION and TX DPS knows it better than anyone.