(CNSNews.com) – Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and John Mica (R-Fla.) have sent a letter to the administrator of the Transportation and Security Administration John Pistole, demanding answers regarding the $50-million uniform contract the agency sealed just days before the sequester budget cuts took effect.
First reported by CNSNews.com, the TSA awarded the contract to VF Imagewear on Feb. 27, two days before $44 billion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts, known as the sequester, began being implemented on March 1.
By Mar. 4, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was warning of long lines at airports due to furloughs at the TSA because of the budget cuts, which are actually reductions in the increase in spending – more money total will be spent in 2013 than in 2012.
“The rationale behind the timing of TSA’s uniform contract and other uncertainties surrounding the contract award raise concerns,” wrote Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Subcommitee on National Security, and Mica, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations.
The lawmakers sent a letter on March 28 to Pistole, asking for documents related to the uniform contract and a committee briefing on the issue “as soon as possible.” (Letter to Pistole.pdf)
“Recent news stories state that the TSA ‘agreed on a deal [in February] worth as much as $50 million to buy new uniforms for rank-and-file agents, despite concerns that imminent budget cuts would result in furloughs and 90-minute flight delays,’” Chaffetz and Mica said.
“Just days within the enactment of sequestration, Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano commented on sequestration’s effects on airport security operations,” they said.
On March 4, Napolitano said, "We are already seeing the effect on the ports of entry, the big airports for example. Some of them had very long lines this weekend."
"Look people, I don't mean to scare, I mean to inform," she said. "If you're traveling, get to the airport earlier than you otherwise would. There's only so much we can do with personnel and please don't yell at the customs officers, the TSA officers. They aren't responsible for sequester."
The oversight committees are asking the TSA if “any consideration” was made to delay the uniform contract in light of the impending sequester.
In addition, Chaffetz and Mica want to know: the total anticipated value of the contract; if it includes a “Buy America” provision; the current uniform allowance for TSA employees; how much the TSA has spent on uniforms per year since 2010; and what percentage of the uniforms are made in the United States.
“[S]ome reports indicate that VF Imagewear’s uniforms are partly made in Mexico,” Chaffetz and Mica said. (Letter to Pistole.pdf)
As previously reported, the TSA confirmed to CNSNews.com that the uniforms will be "manufactured in the U.S. and Mexico."
"TSA's contract with VF Imagewear for TSO uniforms, which has some manufacturing facilities in Mexico, complies with the law," the TSA said.
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the “economic stimulus,” the TSA is required to procure uniforms made in the United States. However, uniform products made in Mexico, Canada, or Chile must also be considered due to the North American Free Trade Agreement and the U.S.-Chilean Free Trade Agreement.
In addition, VF Imagewear has also secured uniform contracts with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, which are also partly manufactured in Mexico.
The TSA has also come under scrutiny from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) who said it is “deeply disturbing” that DHS Secretary Napolitano would talk of furloughing employees while spending up to $50 million on new uniforms, which amounts to about $1,000 per the agency’s 50,000 employees.
The TSA has until April 11 to respond to Chaffetz and Mica’s request.