NCS Pearson quietly builds federal presence

NCS Pearson Inc.

Headquarters: Eden Prairie, Minn.
CEO: David Smith
Employees: 5,500
2001 revenue: $900 million
Web address:

NCS Government Solutions unit

President: Mac Curtis
Employees: 2,500
Estimated 2001 revenue: $180 million
Lines of business: Customer relationship management, e-learning,

Mac Curtis, president of NCS Pearson Government Solutions, credits the acquisition last year of Kajax Engineering Inc., a private professional services company, for landing the Navy education program.

When Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced March 4 that NCS Pearson Government Solutions had won a nine-month, $103.4 million contract to recruit more than 30,000 federal security personnel for airline passenger screening and other responsibilities, the company learned what it means to be thrust into the limelight.

"We got over a thousand [media] inquiries in the first two days," said Gaby Gibbons, the government division's marketing communications manager. "My life is definitely busier."

Before the Transportation Security Administration award, NCS Pearson Government Solutions was a relatively invisible but successful part of NCS Pearson Inc., a provider of applications, services and technologies for education, commercial and government markets based in Eden Prairie, Minn., itself a business within Pearson plc, the British media and education company.

Pearson, which established the government unit in June 2000, climbed to 63 on the Washington Technology Top 100 list this year, up from 75 last year. NCS Pearson, the U.S. affiliate, had revenue of approximately $900 million last year, and about 20 percent, or $180 million, of that came from the government division, according to Mac Curtis, president of NCS Pearson Government Solutions.

NCS Pearson has worked for almost 20 years with the Education Department's Office of Student Financial Assistance to process student loan applications. Most recently, the company implemented an electronic signature process to allow lenders and borrowers to use e-authentication to streamline applications.

In November 2001, the company was chosen by the Navy for a five-year, $75 million contract to manage the service's afloat education program, delivering college courses to sailors deployed on ships worldwide.

Curtis credited NCS Pearson's acquisition last year of Kajax Engineering Inc., a private professional services company, for landing the Navy education program, because KEI was well-established as a defense contractor for network management and administration services.

"Without KEI, we would have had a hard time winning, because the Navy really didn't know who NCS Pearson was," Curtis said.

The acquisition leveraged the two entities' capabilities, because NCS Pearson brought to the table its knowledge of how to operate onsite, and "they brought us 15 new customers," he said.

In February, NCS Pearson landed a five-year, $140 million contract with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to manage and operate three national customer-service call centers. The company said at the time of award it would be hiring more than 400 full- and part-time employees to work at the call centers.

Now, after the homeland security award, NCS Pearson finds itself on the receiving end not just of media requests but of thousands of resumes as it tries to pull off the creation of a vast new security infrastructure by Nov. 19, the deadline mandated by Congress.

"This is unprecedented. I don't think there's ever been a [project] of this size and speed," Curtis said. The company's most relevant experience with a project like the TSA challenge was hiring one-third of the census takers needed to conduct the 2000 census, he said.

"This obviously has a huge [human resources] component. A lot of the lessons we learned from the census apply to this," Curtis said. "We had the same kind of challenge, recruiting [and] staffing in a very short time frame. So we do have experience for a rapid deployment rollout."

The census project at its peak required NCS Pearson to interview somewhere between 13,000 and 16,000 people in order to hire between 3,500 and 4,000 contract employees, he said.

Curtis said he did not know how many people would have to be interviewed in order to hire 30,000 airline passenger screeners. To pull it off, TSA and NCS Pearson will be using many tools to solicit candidates, including Web-based, telephone and paper-based applications.

"We have the Web skills in house. We've done a lot of programs where we've taken customers from a client server environment to Web-based. Our customers pay us to deal with their customers," Curtis said.

A TSA spokesman said NCS Pearson's recruiting efforts are going very well. Prospects fill out applications online and, if they meet basic criteria such as having a high school diploma and U.S. citizenship, they are notified by a pop-up box that they qualified for the next step, he said.

NCS Pearson representatives then contact the qualified applicants and invite them to assessment centers, which will be set up across the country near the airports, the spokesman said. Baltimore-Washington International Airport is set to be the first airport to switch to federal screeners, he said.

At the assessment centers, applicants will go through a number of evaluations, such as medical, vision and lifting tests, and if they pass those, will then go through drug screening and be asked to sign a background check consent form, the TSA representative said. At that point the applicants will get job offers, contingent upon passing drug screening and background examinations.

While some individuals may have to return the next day, the goal is to process each applicant all the way through to job offer in one day, the spokesman said.

For general screener positions at BWI, the spokesman estimated NCS Pearson has received about 5,000 applications for less than 1,000 positions.

At a House Appropriations transportation subcommittee hearing April 17, Kenneth Mead, the Transportation Department's inspector general, predicted the TSA could wind up employing as many as 72,000 people, more than double the original estimate of 30,000 for which NCS Pearson is preparing. Gibbons said the company has not been officially notified that the TSA may require more screeners.

NCS Pearson also bid on the follow-on contract to provide training to all the new airport screeners, but that contract, worth an estimated $105 million, was awarded April 24 to Lockheed Martin Corp., Bethesda, Md.

Staff Writer Patience Wait can be reached at

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