DHS personnel system deal under fire from Thompson

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) has launched a critical inquiry of the Homeland Security Department's decision to award a blanket purchase agreement to Northrop Grumman Information Technology for the $175 million MaxHR project to build a new personnel system. Thompson is the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.

In the letter Thompson sent to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff yesterday, the congressman requested extensive details about the contract and charged that the department's use of a BPA for the transaction was "unorthodox" and "inappropriate." Thompson made the letter public today.

DHS granted the contract last June and awarded a $2 million initial task order. Congressional appropriations committees have cleared $53 million in spending on the IT project in fiscal 2006?a figure that could shift in a pending conference committee on the DHS budget bill. The BPA permits spending up to $175 million over three years.

Thompson wrote to Chertoff that, according to General Services Administration policy, BPAs should be used to benefit from quantity discounts and simplify the purchase of frequently bought items. "As presented to Congress, most of the expenses involved in designing and implementing a new human resources system would be singular and non-recurring," Thompson wrote. "Therefore, using a procurement instrument designed for recurring expenditures is inconsistent with this process."

Thompson said that Northrop Grumman does not appear to be offering quantity discounts on the IT work. He added that BPAs generally do not provide for the strict oversight and accountability needed in developing complex pay and administrative systems.

"I am concerned that using a blanket purchase order could increase the risk of inefficiency in executing and overseeing this award," Thompson said.

"The department will certainly respond to Congressman Thompson's request for information concerning our contract with Northrop Grumman," said DHS spokesman Larry Orluskie.

Northrop Grumman said through a spokeswoman that it was referring inquiries about the Thompson letter to DHS, and that it expected to continue work on the HR project.

Wilson S. Dizard III is a senior writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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