TSA ices sole-sourced screening deal

Transportation Security Administration officials have decided not to award a screening equipment maintenance contract to an Alaskan-native owned corporation under rules that allow such companies to get contracts without competition.

Instead, agency officials plan to hold a competition for the contract.

"After carefully reviewing the options and weighing the opinions of the experts, TSA concluded that the competitive bidding process provides the right avenue to a contractor that will provide the government the best value," said Rear Adm. David M. Stone, USN (Ret.), assistant secretary of Homeland Security for TSA, in a written statement. "As good stewards of the taxpayer's dollars, we can do no less."

The decision came after officials considered combining their requirements with other TSA organizations on a contract with Chenega Technology Services, one of more than 200 companies designated as Alaska Native Corporations.

"We were approached with an alternate to use some of the synergies we have with some of our sister agencies within" the Homeland Security department, said a TSA spokeswoman. "That was one of the options."

The Alaska Native Corporation program is a controversial set-aside that allows companies owned by native Alaskans to ignore the usual $3 million cap on sole-source contracts that applies to other disadvantaged businesses, along with other advantages.

Critics say the firms have too much advantage and larger companies who sign on as ANC partners can reap rewards while sidestepping the normal competition rules. Supporters say the companies funnel money back to native Alaskan communities and the program gives more businesses a chance at government contracting.

"That's a huge advantage, to get a [large] contract without competition," said David Nadler, a procurement attorney with Dickstein Shapiro Morin and Oshinsky in Washington, D.C. "It's important to remember that as a policy matter, the government is distinguishing between the regular disadvantaged groups that are in the 8(a) program. The preferences relating to ANCs go back to what's really a government to government relationship. These tribes are governments."

The TSA contract, to be awarded in February 2005, will provide the maintenance for screening equipment at the United States' 450 commercial airports, according to officials. The value has not yet been determined, according to the TSA spokeswoman.

Boeing, which is the current contract holder, will continue to maintain some screening equipment through March 10 of next year, TSA officials said.

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