While he stopped short of declaring victory in the battle to save the yard, Sununu, R-N.H., said "we would not be where we are today" if it were not for strong showing of community support the yard had received.
Prior to Sununu's arrival at the meeting, task force members defended plans to use Seacoast Shipyard Association funds to send a group of shipyard supporters to New York next Friday in the hopes of getting interviewed by weatherman Al Roker live on the "Today Show."
A reporter suggested the move could be construed as a waste of taxpayer dollars, noting only the commission could decide the shipyard's fate.
Several task force members stood up to defend the decision, saying the national media attention Portsmouth supporters attracted has left an impression on the commission.
"One of the things the BRAC commission is looking at is community support," Donald G. Hands, a member of the American Federation of Government Employees at the shipyard said. "We're showing them national support."
Retired shipyard commander and SSA spokesman Capt. William McDonough noted that not all military bases are as welcome in their host communities as Portsmouth has been.
During Wednesday's meeting, shipyard supporters also continued to iron out plans for a "Save Our Shipyard" picnic scheduled to take place at the Pease International Tradeport on Aug. 13. The event will feature entertainment including live music and BMX bicycle demonstrations.
Sununu, who said he planned to attend the picnic, took some time to address the issue of public shipyard capacity, which he noted would be a key issue in deciding Portsmouth's fate.
He said he believed the commission would make sure there would be enough capacity to make up for the approximately six unexpected submarine availabilities shipyards deal with each year.
Asked if he had received any feedback from the commission as to what its decision on the capacity issue would be, Sununu replied by saying "nothing that would be appropriate for me to share here."
AFGE Vice President John Joyal told Sununu he was concerned the BRAC process was politically motivated and said Congress should delay the process until overseas conflicts are resolved.
"I agree with you," Sununu said, responding to Joyal, adding that he and other members of the Maine and New Hampshire delegation had unsuccessfully sponsored a bill that would have delayed the process until it was determined how many military bases would be needed overseas.
But Sununu stressed that in the meantime, they must deal with current commission.
Border agent said to also be smuggler
Feds alleging Mexican used fake birth certificate to get job
By Onell R. Soto and Leslie Berestein
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
August 5, 2005
A Mexican man who used a fake U.S. birth certificate to get into the Border Patrol was helping to smuggle illegal immigrants, authorities said yesterday.
Oscar Antonio Ortiz, 28, an El Cajon-based Border Patrol agent on administrative leave, was arrested yesterday and charged in San Diego federal court with falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen.
He also is charged with conspiring with another Border Patrol agent to smuggle immigrants and is scheduled to be arraigned in U.S. District Court this morning.
There is no indication in court records that the other agent, who was not identified, has been arrested.
In wiretapped calls, the two agents talked repeatedly about smuggling illegal immigrants through the border area they patrolled east of Tecate this spring, according to a complaint filed in court.
In one instance, they are heard talking about how to negotiate with a Mexican smuggler. In another, the other agent talks to a family member about how much money he would get if he just let the smuggling happen as opposed to smuggling people himself.
The two were working with a man in Mexico identified only as "Sol" or "Soldado," which means soldier.
In a May 4 wiretapped conversation, the other agent told Ortiz, "Talk numbers and don't go too low with him."
"I don't know how the guy wants to work, but I'll talk with him," Ortiz said.
"If he's just going to use our area, we can't ask for anything more," the other agent said.
Two weeks later, the other patrol agent told a family member that he was helping to smuggle 30 to 50 immigrants at a time, according to the court filing.
"We don't do anything, just clear the way and we get $300 per head," the other agent said, according to the wiretap. "But if we put in, then it's $2,000 or $1,800."
Ortiz and the other agent were placed on administrative leave in early June, around the time authorities dismantled a drug ring headed by an Encinitas gang member.
The agents knew some of the 28 accused drug dealers, but the two groups weren't working together, a sheriff's lieutenant said at the time.
Border Patrol agents must be U.S. citizens.
According to papers filed in court yesterday, Ortiz claimed to have been a U.S. citizen born in Chicago when he applied for the Border Patrol job in October 2001.
He provided a copy of an Illinois birth certificate. But when investigators checked the number on that document with records there, they discovered it belonged to someone else.
Ortiz, according to the court filing, was born in Tijuana and remains a Mexican citizen.
The idea that someone could be hired to guard the border by using false citizenship documents is "mind-boggling," said T.J. Bonner, the San Diego-based president of the National Border Patrol Council.
"I would think that would be the very first thing they would check," Bonner said.
Background checks for Border Patrol agents were once done by the FBI, Bonner said. For several years, though, subcontractors have been doing them, he said.
But he puts more of the blame for such security breaches on what he considers rushed hiring.
"These background checks are allowed to just poke along while the person is hired," Bonner said. "They are rushed to get that warm body on board, and they neglect to thoroughly conduct a background check."
Former local union president Joe Dassaro said he thinks subcontracting is a problem.
"They deal in quantity, not quality," said Dassaro, now a labor relations consultant. "By the nature of their contract they need to get people into the Border Patrol, not keep people out.
Ortiz shouldn't expect the union to rally behind him, Bonner said.
"We don't want people smuggling or breaking any laws being a Border Patrol agent," he said. "Don't expect the union to be representing this guy in court."
Agency may cut Pittsburgh International Airport screeners
Thursday, August 04, 2005
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
At a time when local passenger traffic and peak-hour waits to clear the security checkpoint are increasing, a federal agency is planning to cut the number of employees who screen passengers at Pittsburgh International Airport.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration intends to cut the number of full-time equivalent positions from its current 312 to 218, spokeswoman Ann Davis said yesterday. The cuts will be made through attrition, with no layoffs, she said.
No timetable for the reductions has been set.
At one time, the TSA employed 570 screeners at the airport. That number dropped to 460 by fall 2003 and has since been reduced even further over the last two years as US Airways has slashed hundreds of daily flights at Pittsburgh International.
But federal officials are targeting the airport for more cutbacks even though local passenger traffic, which involves those who utilize the checkpoint, has increased nearly 20 percent since 2003.
At the same time, waits to clear security during peak times have lengthened to half an hour or longer, prompting the county Airport Authority to authorize the spending of about $3.5 million to fast track construction of another checkpoint in the closed commuter terminal. It's expected to be ready by the Christmas travel rush.
Davis said the TSA will increase the number of full-time equivalent positions in Pittsburgh to 258 once the new checkpoint, with four additional lanes for screening, opens.
The TSA, she said, does not believe the latest cutbacks will increase wait times at the airport or diminish security.
Davis said the TSA is seeking to implement a number of "efficiencies" designed to alleviate delays at the checkpoint. The airport currently has a low number of part-time employees. By increasing the number of part-timers to work at peak times, it could help to cut delays, she said, without affecting the number of full-time equivalent positions.
The agency also is working to improve scheduling and reduce work-related injuries, both of which could affect the number of screeners available for duty.
"By introducing scheduling efficiencies and increasing the ratio of part-time to full-time screeners, there shouldn't be any adverse impact on passengers," Davis said.
The Airport Authority, which has complained about cutbacks in the past, is taking a wait-and-see stance. Authority Executive Director Kent George said the agency has assured him that it will have "sufficient staffing."
"With that assurance, we're going to monitor it closely, but we don't see any need to do anything different at this time," he said. "If we see a problem, we will immediately go to the federal security director or Washington, if we have to."
Craig Martelle, a former assistant security director who resigned amid an investigation at the airport, said he believes the latest cuts will result in longer waiting times. He said 328 screeners is a more reasonable number for Pittsburgh.
Davis would not address Martelle's comments.
Airport officials pushing for automated screeners
Airport officials pushing for automated screeners
By Dena Levitz | Staff Writer
Friday, August 5, 2005
Hand off a piece of luggage to a security screener. Watch it pass through one machine. Pick it back up and then load it onto another machine.
That's the typical sequence for passengers flying out of most U.S. airports.
Traditional baggage screening systems are only partially automated, so screeners often must pick up customers' bags, take a quick glance inside and then reload them through a series of X-rays.
It's a lengthy process that is being made quicker, more reliable and less annoying for customers through the newest technology - fully automated baggage-screening systems that allow luggage to stay on one belt and move through security untouched by human hands.
As Augusta Regional Airport officials supervise the building of a new terminal, they're trying to persuade the Transportation Security Administration to provide the state-of-the-art equipment for the facility.
Airport Marketing Director Diane Johnston said the terminal design was created with the belief that a new screening system could be added either during or after construction and that now it's just a matter of waiting.
"If funding does become available, we're in a position to be looked at," she said.
A full system can cost up to $3 million; a partial system would be about half that price.
In the spring, aviation commissioners first spoke about the possibility of upgrading Augusta's screening equipment and voted to strengthen the floors in case the equipment comes through.
They said having the equipment would please existing airlines and be crucial in the effort to lure a low-cost carrier.
"Low-cost carriers tell us that that's what they want to see," Ms. Johnston said.
"It's more cost effective, and customers don't have to worry about finding their bag and putting it in the right place."
To learn the details of the screening system, several commissioners toured Jacksonville Municipal Airport, a leader in the use of the technology.
Upon their return, commission Chairman Cedric Johnson said he was adamant about pushing for the machines.
But is Augusta closer to being considered for funding?
Ms. Johnston says yes, that the airport is on a list of facilities that could benefit, should TSA have the means.
Gerald Chapman, the federal security director supervising Augusta, said the fact that Augusta is building a new terminal gives the city a much better shot.
TSA spokesman Christopher White said the airports with such systems so far been major international airports, which is why Augusta is not scheduled for an upgrade yet.
"We'll monitor the construction of the new terminal, and if it turns out we have the resources we may make equipment available later," he said.
Homeland IG singles out ICE financial mismanagement
By STEPHEN LOSEY
Budget shortfalls at Immigration and Customs Enforcement have forced a hiring freeze and left agents without money for day-to-day expenses, the former inspector general of the Homeland Security Department said.
And ongoing financial management problems at ICE and the Coast Guard are hampering work throughout the department, acting IG Richard Skinner said at a July 27 hearing held by the House Government Reform subcommittee on government management, finance and accountability.
Fixing difficulties at ICE and the Coast Guard managing funds, property, equipment and accounting — and overcoming problems with the department’s financial structure and information technology security — will be critical to getting Homeland Security’s finances back on track, said Skinner, who is awaiting his confirmation by the Senate as IG.
Financial management shortcomings, which also include the Transportation Security Administration’s mismanagement of large contracts, waste millions of dollars, witnesses said.
“Until we fix ICE’s financial problems, until we fix TSA’s financial problems, we’re going to continue to spend a lot of money,” said subcommittee chairman Todd Platts, R-Pa.
ICE is by far the most troubled agency within Homeland Security when it comes to financial management, Skinner said.
“Its financial management problems have reverberated throughout DHS, consuming large amounts of management time and affecting the accounts of other significant DHS components,” Skinner said.
Skinner said the traumatic breakup of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 2003 that created ICE, along with Customs and Border Protection and Citizenship and Immigration Services, contributed to serious budget shortfalls.
ICE kept much of the infrastructure left over from the defunct INS, and used that infrastructure to provide accounting and other services to other Homeland Security bureaus, Skinner said. But the payments to ICE for those services was not settled until late in fiscal 2004, by which point ICE was left with a shortfall of between $200 million and $300 million, former IG Clark Kent Ervin said in a written statement to the subcommittee.
In addition to an extended hiring freeze, ICE is plagued in other ways by financial problems: Some ICE agents have not had enough money to gas up their cars, pay confidential informants or use cell phones, Ervin said. And the funding gap worsened ICE’s already underfunded program to house detained illegal aliens, he said.
Further, ICE fell seriously behind in its accounting last fiscal year, Skinner said, and the lack of that information kept independent auditors from fully evaluating the agency.
“It is hard to overstate the toll these changes took on the state of ICE’s financial management, the results of which flowed directly into DHS’ consolidated financial reporting,” Skinner said.
Andrew Maner, Homeland Security’s chief financial officer, said ICE still has problems. The difficulties were partially caused by the loss of many of ICE’s financial managers during the agency’s early days, he said.
Skinner said ICE recently appointed a new acting CFO, Debra Bond, and a financial management director.
The Coast Guard has a long-term plan to improve its management of property, equipment, operating materials and supplies, Skinner said, but those issues will likely remain a problem beyond fiscal 2005.
At TSA, ‘what not to do’
Skinner said his office plans to release a report within a month on TSA’s oversight of a contract with NCS Pearson Inc. The Washington Post reported June 30 that an unreleased audit found the February 2002 contract for human resource management services ballooned from $104 million to $741 million in 15 months.
Janet Hale, Homeland Security’s undersecretary for management, said at the hearing the contract grew because its scope changed and TSA did not know how many airport security screeners it would hire when the process began. She said TSA also disallowed almost $140 million in invoices Pearson submitted.
Skinner said the Pearson contract was understaffed and “doomed for problems.” When the contract was awarded, he said, TSA had a staff of 12, and only one was a contract manager. Skinner said his report will show that TSA has learned from its mistakes.
TSA’s contract with Pearson is “a poster child for what not to do,” Skinner said.