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Drive-By Contracting

While the nation obsesses over Brangelina and baby, a little-known government bureaucrat has cached himself into a major career "upgrade", despite serious questions regarding his current job duties. Last year, the Washington Post was all over the Department of Homeland Security's $10 billion U.S. VISIT technology program for a variety of failures. James Williams ran the program, that is, until this week when he was appointed to be in charge of the Federal Acquisition Service (a fancy name for the government's buying catalogue).

For all those contractors eager to get their "hunting license" in thirty days, take some notes here. RIDICULOUS GIMMICKS WORK! Here's the Post's version of Williams awarding the U.S. Visit contract:

In February 2004, Accenture's team put on a demonstration for Williams in the suburban Virginia parking lot of another Accenture subcontractor. Accenture set up a make-believe checkpoint to simulate a border-crossing post. Williams was told to drive through to test Accenture's technical savvy. He accelerated to 40 miles per hour and passed through electronic sensors.

As Williams drove past the sensors, playing the role of foreign visitor, the system scanned a chip embedded in a mock passport. Moments later, an electronic sign proclaimed that "James Williams" was the man behind the wheel of the car. The show was a rousing success, Williams said.

But Accenture said that the demonstration had little to do with what will eventually be built.

Peter Soh, another Accenture spokesman, said in an e-mail that the "simulation Accenture staged was for demonstration purposes only. It was not a recommended solution or a technology offering, and in no way did it represent what the final US-VISIT solution will look like."

Accenture's team won the contract in May 2004. Company officials said the division working on US-VISIT is Accenture LLP, based in Northern Virginia.

Lest you think all must be well at U.S. VISIT since then, think again. Last month, the House Appropriations Committee threw the Washington, DC version of a hissy-fit when it docked $312 million out of $362 million of US VISIT�s budget. Recent reports from GAO and the DHS Inspector General raise more interesting issues regarding U.S. VISIT.

But, one man's poison is another man's meat. Lurita Doan, the new General Services Administrator, is the person responsible for appointing Williams to his new gig overseeing who can sell to the government. It seems likely that Williams played some role in helping his new boss Lurita Doan to land contracts when she owned and ran New Technology Management, a Reston, VA-based contractor for the Department of Homeland Security (among others).

By: Beth Daley
Director of Investigations, POGO

At the time of publication, Beth Daley was the Director of Investigations for the Project On Government Oversight.

Authors: Beth Daley

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