DHS consultants draw scrutiny from Senate Democrats

Four Senate Democrats complained this week to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge about the department's use of hired consultants to study outsourcing the jobs of 1,100 immigration information officers.

In a letter to Ridge, the Democrats said they want answers about exactly what the consultants are doing and how much they are paid.

"We are also concerned that an excessive reliance on contractors may impede the ability of DHS management to make an independent decision, one that maintains as a primary focus the department's central mission of protecting the nation," the senators said.

The letter was signed by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).

Several private contractors were hired to study the possibility of outsourcing the jobs. In July, DHS said a study was being conducted by Grant Thornton LLP to evaluate the benefits of outsourcing the work of this group of employees. In addition, Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. was hired to work on the study.

DHS officials had no immediate comment on the letter, and neither did labor unions representing federal employees. Ridge and Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James are expected to decide later this year how the personnel system at DHS will be structured.

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