Thursday, March 15, 2012

DPS outsourced key border security tasks to shadowy private contractor

Here's a story that should have been broken by a Texas publication, but credit must instead go to Tom Barry at Alternet for a remarkable piece of reporting titled "Who Is Securing the Texas Border? How Private Contractors Mislead the Public, Then Get Rich Off Taxpayer Money."
Since 2006 many of the key figures in state-led border security operations and information campaigns have identified themselves as DPS employees or part of the Texas Rangers to the public, policy community and the media, disguising their true identities.

The business card he handed me during the sheriffs meeting identified Sikes as the director of the Border Security Operations Center (BSOC) – which is a type of fusion center for border-security operations in Texas. It’s a project of the Texas Rangers Division, which in turn is a branch of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).

However, Mac Sikes is neither a Texas Ranger nor a DPS employee. Like most of the other key figures behind the Lone Star State’s border security campaign, Sikes is a contract employee.

A “senior operational analyst” at Abrams Learning & Information Systems (ALIS), Sikes became director of BSOC as part of the firm’s $3-5 million annual contracts with DPS since 2006. The recent DPS decision -- in response to a public records request -- to release the ALIS contract revealed the true identity of Sikes.

The Border Security Operations Center is the nexus of the Texas’ own border security initiatives, collectively known as Operation Border Star. ALIS, a homeland-security consulting firm with offices in Arlington, Virginia, was founded in 2004 by Ret. Army Gen. John Abrams to cash in on the billions of dollars in new government contracting funds that started to flow after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

Since 2006 ALIS functioned as the hidden force behind virtually all non-federal border-security operations in Texas. Whether it’s strategy formulation, border crime-mapping, operations management, or public relations, ALIS and its team of consultants have been closely involved in creating what Governor Rick Perry calls the “Texas model of border security.”
Says Barry, "It would be hard to exaggerate the degree to which Governor Perry and DPS Chief McCraw have outsourced state border-security, homeland-security, and public-safety programs to Washington Beltway contractors." Further, and this is certainly accurate, "There has been absolutely no review by policy makers or by the public of DPS outsourcing of border-security strategy and operations." Maybe now it will come.

In addition, wrote Barry, a February report (pdf) from the Texas state auditor found a number of irregularities with federal grant spending:
The audit reviewed a representative selection of cases among the $265.9 million in federal grants and subgrants to DPS -- in the areas of homeland security, border security, emergency management, and law enforcement interoperability.
Among the findings of negligence and incompetence were these startling instances:
  • A draw-down of $755,509 in federal funds to issue a duplicate payment to one subgrantee.
  •  Five of the six procurements (83%) examined by the auditor in the cluster of federal grants for homeland and border security were not bid competitively as required.
  • DPS categorized four of the five procurements examined by the auditor as “emergency procurements,” and in three of those four DPS was unable to document why they were processed as “emergency” contracts.
  • DPS has no system to track, administer, monitor federal subgrants – as federal guidelines require, leading to routine occurrences of duplicate payments, dipping into one federal fund to pay for unrelated programs, and failure to submit required reports and audits.
  • Complete failure to track interest rates on unused federal funds and to remit those funds, as required by federal grant guidelines.
  • Access to law-enforcement databases by contract programmers who lacked proper authorization or clearance.
This is a good example why Grits is under the impression that Texas would benefit from more original reporting on criminal-justice topics. Our media should have picked up on the outsourcing of border security operations long ago, but not a single reporter (MSM or otherwise) regularly attends meetings of the Public Safety Commission, much less covers the agency in remotely the level of detail, say, that the Austin Statesman's Mike Ward does for TDCJ. There's just a vacuum of coverage on the agency's activities that journalism should but doesn't routinely fill. I'm happy Mr. Barry wrote the piece, but every political or crime-beat reporter and editor in Texas should be kicking themselves for having missed the story for the last half-dozen years until after the practice is a fait accompli.

See more at Barry's blog, Border Lines.

MORE: From the Austin Statesman.


MaxM said...

Guess this ties into the grossly exaggerated report of Texas-side border violence in the study from Gen.Barry McCaffrey last Fall. The study was probably paid for by ALIS in some form or fashion.

Anonymous said...

So who is the contractor? Blackwater, Triple Canopy?

Anonymous said...

Statesman would claim to have been reviewing this for "more than three months":

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Since this all started six years ago that's not all that comforting, 5:32, and in any event, if that's so, Mr. Barry scooped the hell out of them.

Don't get me wrong: I missed it too. But the reason this wasn't covered earlier is that neither the Statesman nor any other media outlet regularly sends a reporter to the PSC meetings.

The contractor, 6:24, is Abrams Learning & Information Systems (ALIS).

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ nocretedetentioncenter, I think Littlelfield, TX may be your poster child for a worst case scenario. Here are some other examples. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

5:32 here ... agreed on that, and I find the timing of the AAS story curious. Think it was because of Mr. Barry's scoop?

It's not even clear that attending the PSC meetings would have necessarily helped, as Mr. Barry says, because contracts were approved "...without any public discussion and without any evaluation" and the program has operated "without any oversight or review."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Actually 5:32/8:42, I suspect it means there was a common whistleblower, likely unnamed in the stories, who turned several media onto it at once.

The same sort of thing happened with the TYC sex scandal stories. The Texas Observer and the Dallas News fought over who deserved the "scoop" (TO published first, DMN more extensively over time), but really the original source for both stories was a legislative staffer (Alison Brock in Rep. Sylvester Turner's office) who'd been fielding and following up on complaints.

It takes folks about the same time to get back their open records requests after they're first informed, and if we're to be entirely generous about the "three months" characterization, that may explain the four-day lag from Barry's piece to the Statesman's as much as them following up on his scoop, though him publishing surely moved up their timeline.

Also, IMO a reporter who went to the meetings and watched the agendas would have at least been aware of the contracts to follow up on. (If you actually attend, you also pick up scuttlebut from other attendees, and there's talk of dissension at DPS from 2008 on that even showed up in the LAR.) I recall a Grits "scoop" on a contract related to the TDEX database (think "Total Information Awareness" with a drawl) just because I showed up at the PSC meeting that day (to discuss Driver Responsibility rules) and nobody else did. Somebody who attended meetings and followed up routinely with open records requests, interviews, etc., IMO would have uncovered the story much sooner, but DPS just isn't covered as thoroughly as it was, say, 20 years ago when there were so many more reporters around.

john said...

As the legislature follows Congress' lead of corruption & deceit, it's pretty frightening to bring in still more lobbyists and bribe-extravaganzas.
The Exec. Branch should not be able to buy stuff without Legislative approval and oversight.
Even once it gets reported (and I assume they tried to keep it covered up), what oversight can We The People citizens DO to hold back these greedy flaming flying monkeys throughout the gov??? They're already taxing, feeing & fining us to tears--and using it against us. Now they can all hardly wait to take over Hutchison's Senate seat--making someone the still-yet-most-corrupt SOB.
Could BORDER wars be kept secret to hide them from the current feds, who are out to maim Texas in particular? If so, just the opposite stance needs to be taken: MORE transparency, MORE news releases, seeking out SOME quasi-honest reporters (from where, who can imagine?) TO GET THE NEWS TO THE PEOPLE so they can react on any elected officials whose power has not been usurped by communitarian committee.
(CANNOT read the 'captcha' crap)

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Thanks for putting up with me, Grits.
-5:32 / 8:42

Wyle Outz said...

i hv a story that REALLY needs attn brought to it b4 its too late.. how can i share it w/ Grits for Breakfast? mayb u can help?