tampabay.com

Profit grab needs probe

By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published May 28, 2007


Wasting taxpayer dollars is unacceptable. Wasting taxpayer dollars and jeopardizing the lives of U.S. servicemen is unconscionable.

The Washington Post reported that Northern NEF, a Colorado-based technology firm, and P-Con Consulting, headquartered in Virginia, made hefty profits on a $100-million project to create floating rubber barriers to protect Navy ships from terrorist attacks while in port. What's worse, the barriers don't work; they are susceptible to leaks and deflation, leaving ships no safer than they were before. Laws are in place to prevent fraud and abuse, but the government turned a blind eye. It should move swiftly to hold the contractors accountable.

Following a 2000 al-Qaida attack in Yemen that killed 17 sailors, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service tapped Northern as the top contractor for the project without a bidding process. That's only allowed in projects costing less than $3-million. But to get around the rule, Northern was allowed to submit more than 30 separate invoices below $3-million. That's pretty brazen.

As directed by NCIS, Northern hired P-Con, but neither group got its hands wet. An English company built the barriers while another Virginia company delivered them. Northern took $2.6-million for its efforts and P-Con pocketed $1-million. When an external audit by the General Services Administration revealed the scandal four years ago, NCIS said it wanted to take over the investigation. Not much has happened since.

The GSA should reassert its control of the investigation. NCIS sidestepped federal law in awarding the contracts and proved itself untrustworthy in conducting a full review.

The money these contractors made should be refunded and used to redo the project that they bungled. The idea was to save American lives, not rip off taxpayers.

Wasting taxpayer dollars is unacceptable. Wasting taxpayer dollars and jeopardizing the lives of U.S. servicemen is unconscionable.

The Washington Post reported that Northern NEF, a Colorado-based technology firm, and P-Con Consulting, headquartered in Virginia, made hefty profits on a $100 million project to create floating rubber barriers to protect Navy ships from terrorist attacks while in port. What's worse, the barriers don't work; they are susceptible to leaks and deflation, leaving ships no safer than they were before. Laws are in place to prevent fraud and abuse, but the government turned a blind eye. It should move swiftly to hold the contractors accountable.

Following a 2000 al-Qaida attack in Yemen that killed 17 sailors, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service tapped Northern as the top contractor for the project without a bidding process. That's only allowed in projects costing less than $3 million. But to get around the rule, Northern was allowed to submit more than 30 separate invoices below $3 million. That's pretty brazen.

As directed by NCIS, Northern hired P-Con, but neither group got its hands wet. An English company built the barriers while another Virginia company delivered them. Northern took $2.6 million for its efforts and P-Con pocketed $1 million. When an external audit by the General Services Administration revealed the scandal four years ago, NCIS said it wanted to take over the investigation. Not much has happened since.

The GSA should reassert its control of the investigation. NCIS sidestepped federal law in awarding the contracts and proved itself untrustworthy in conducting a full review.

The money these contractors made should be refunded and used to redo the project that they bungled. The idea was to save American lives, not rip off taxpayers.