Friday, March 16, 2012

Time for Full Investigation of Operation Border Star in Texas

Border Star Power Point presentation prepared by ALIS
Today, State Senator José Rodríguez called for an investigation by the Texas State Comptroller’s office into the border security contracts of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).
The call for an official investigation was spurred, according to Rodríguez, by a February 2012 state auditor’s report and by “recent media reports on the outsourcing of Texas border security operations to Abrams Learning & Information Systems (ALIS), a private consulting firm based in Arlington, VA.”
The journalistic investigation of Governor Rick Perry’s border security campaign began two years ago when The Nation Institute agreed to support Tom Barry’s research on this issue.
Barry, a senior analyst at the Center for International Policy, wrote an investigative report, “At War in Texas,” for the Boston Review that focused on the abuses and misuses of federal funding by Texas state and local governments.
The funding, including more than a hundred million dollars from the Obama administration’s economic stimulus initiative, came largely from the Department of Justice and also from the Department of Homeland Security.
Five days ago the Border Lines Blog published a three-part series on the Texas outsourcing scandal. Four days ago Alternet published the second of two investigative articles by Tom Barry on the lack of accountability and transparency in Texas border security operations – most of which were outsourced to ALIS. The first article, “How Unaccountable Private Contractors Pocket Your Tax Dollars Militarizing the Texas Border,” was published on Sept. 27, 2011.
The Austin Statesman followed with a report on the same outsourcing scandal on March 15, 2012, which added new details to the unaccountable contracting practices of DPS.
As is often the case in Texas with respect to criminal justice issues, the ACLU and the Grits for Breakfast blog of Scott Henson have been among the first to point to the lack of transparency and accountability in DPS and the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division.
The ACLU’s Laura Martin wrote an excellent report about Operation Border Star titled Wasted Millions, which should at the time of the release of the report have alerted the state’s media and public officials about the public safety implications of the governor’s border program. Martin wrote the alarming report three years ago in March 2009.
Senator Rodríguez, the first Texas politician to demand that the shadowy border security programs be investigated, said that outsourcing “raised significant concerns about the transparency of DPS' bidding and procurement processes as well as DPS' management of millions of state and federal taxpayer dollars.”
Furthermore, the El Paso senator observed. “The issues surrounding these contracts bring to light a serious public policy consideration of whether the state of Texas should have outsourced the bulk of border security operations to a private company with negligible experience in international border operations.”
Despite its alarming findings, the state auditor’s report went largely unreported by the state or national media. The Ft.Worth Star-Telegram mentioned the report – in a Feb. 28, 2010 blog post.
This independent report indicates that, on at least three occasions, DPS was unable to document why "emergency" action was necessary. Not only was there pervasive abuse of the "emergency" contracting procedures by DPS, this appears to be part of a larger failure to open contracts to competitive bidding as required by state law. A startling 83% of the contracts reviewed by the State Auditor in the cluster of federal grants for homeland and border security were not bid competitively as required by state law.
Other disturbing findings by the State Auditor include duplicate payments made by DPS to sub-grantees and that DPS has no process in place to track federal sub-grants, in some cases paying for one program with federal funds intended for another.
The outsourcing of Texas border security is, however, much more than another instance of the misuse of public revenues.
Certainly, it is another example of how accountability and transparency in government are especially lacking in all spending that involves “security” – whether national, homeland, or border security.”
But it is a much larger scandal than faulty accounting or even the bilking of public revenues by private contractors.
This is a scandal that deserves the attention of the oversight committees of the U.S. Congress and Texas State Legislature.
It merits an official investigation that looks into how ideologically staunch politicians and government officials, together with consulting firms closely tied to the U.S. military, are manipulating information and threat assessments about U.S. security and public safety. 

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