Pentagon audit cited TSA nominee's firm for overbilling

The company founded by retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Harding, who has been named to head the Transportation Security Administration, overbilled the government for interrogation work in Iraq and had to pay back about $2 million, according to Senate aides who are vetting him.

Pentagon auditors found that the excessive billing by Harding Security Associates, a defense and intelligence contracting business Harding launched in 2003, ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, aides said.

The audit, which a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday was completed by the Defense Contract Audit Agency in September 2006, has not been publicly released. The agency declined to discuss it, referring all questions to the Defense Department.

Because senators have not had access to the report, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, sent a letter to Defense agencies Thursday seeking all information related to the audit.

An Obama administration official confirmed this week, in response to inquiries by CongressDaily, that Harding Security had 22 personnel working in Iraq from February-August 2004 providing "interrogator and debriefer services in support of the Iraq Survey Group."

According to Senate aides, the questionable billings related to interrogation services the company provided under a contract with the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The company acknowledged in a 2007 statement to the General Services Administration of its "corporate capabilities" that it had engaged in "contractual efforts with on site" personnel for the "Defense Intelligence Agency's (DIA) Interrogator and Debriefer support in Iraq as part of the USCENTCOM [U.S. Central Command] and Iraq Survey Group (ISG) HUMINT [Human Intelligence] Operations."

Two job postings on the company's Web site in early 2004 sought a "Debriefer/Interrogator" and a "Debriefer" to conduct interrogations and support the Joint Interrogation Debriefing Center, which was located at the military's Abu Ghraib forward operating base in Baghdad. The contractors did not end up working under the JIDC and the job posting was drafted "in accordance with DIA specs at the time," an administration official said. [corrected from original]

The ads indicated the work, which required clearance to access classified information, would last one year.

"We are staffing many positions for Debriefer/Interrogators," the ads said.

The Senate aides said they did not know why the Harding Security contract was terminated after only a few months' work. They said they understood the company had a dispute with the government over the excessive billing but eventually reached a settlement in which Harding's firm paid back about $2 million.

Harding, who sold the firm in July, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday for confirmation hearings.

Harding is expected to meet with Senate aides on March 19.

The White House did not immediately respond late Thursday, and efforts to obtain comment from Harding Security Associates were unsuccessful.

When he was nominated March 8, the White House noted Harding had "over 35 years working in the intelligence community, including 33 years in the Army." From 1996-2000, he served as director of operations at DIA, where the White House said he was "the Department of Defense's senior Human Intelligence (HUMINT) officer" and managed "over $1 billion in intelligence collection program requirements."

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