Turns out that employees at the State Department have peeped into the passport records of the current three presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama. However, the only persons fired were two contractors who peeped at Obama's passport (one in January, one in March). At least three other State employees (whether direct or contract) have peeped at Clinton's (Summer 2007) and McCain's (March) and Obama's (February) ... but weren't fired, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
One company -- Stanley, Inc. -- implicated in the peeping has had a five-fold increase in its government contracts since President Bush took office in January 2001. Contract value has almost doubled since new regulations boosted the demand for passports in 2004, and Stanley received a new $570 million contract on 17 March. They provide contract managers, not just grunts, begging the questions: just how much of our government services and expertise is being outsourced, and what rights might those contractors have if they become perma-temps?
Political passport peeping is not new. In 1992, "a Republican political appointee was demoted for searching the passport file of Democratic candidate Bill Clinton, who was in a battle with then-President George H.W. Bush."
The passport record doesn't reveal our travel history, but it does contain private information such as our date of birth and social security number and documentation of citizenship. The system that flagged these searches was developed in response to the 1992 search. It is, however, limited to the names of "high profile" individuals and only alerts the immediate supervisor and does not appear designed to flag any other unwarranted peeping. (That is, normal citizens.) And apparently Washington didn't know of these breaches until asked about them by a reporter. (Who tipped the reporter?)
Demand For Passports
The State Department began experiencing a significant passport application backlog as a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The law also provided a boon for private passport expediting services. (In December, Congress "told the administration and its recalcitrant Department of Homeland Security to postpone the full implementation of the Western Hemisphere Initiative (WHTI) until June 1, 2009 or later.")
Last July, Congress tried to reduce the backlog by allowing "the State Department to rehire retired, but passport-experience personnel." And yet 60% of those employees (2,600 of 4,400) are contractors. Why did State need approval to re-hire retired employees? Did it need approval to outsource these tasks?
Secretary of State Condi Rice told reporters that she'll turn this matter over to State's inspector general. But as WhirledView notes:
State hasn't had a confirmed IG since the most recent politically appointed IG, Howard "Cookie" Krongard left under a cloud late last year...
... Krongard also managed to all but destroy the IG's office to the point that the few employees left complained to Congressman Henry Waxman's House oversight committee about Krongard's gross mismanagement last fall...
State's Acting IG, William Todd obviously has his hands full this Easter weekend and they aren't with Easter eggs to be hidden for the kiddies. Todd's credentials certainly look better than Krongard's on paper at least. If Todd and the head of the office's Investigations Unit handle this one right, it may be the case that makes their careers.
The ACLU blasted State on Friday for refusing to identify the firm managing the contract employees. A search of the government contracts database provides info on one culprit, Stanley, Inc. (Supposedly, there is at least one other contractor involved.)
About Stanley, Inc.
Stanley, Inc (ASX) says on its website that it is employee-owned but it has had stock under trade since October 2006.
Stanley does more than provide services to State, and its federal government contracts have blossomed under the Bush Administration: increasing from $58 million in fiscal 2000 to $322 million in fiscal 2007.
According to the USA Spending database, the Army was the firm's biggest contract in fiscal 2007, and they were the #10 contractor to State in fiscal 2007.
Although Stanley, Inc was a State contractor before Congress boosted the demand for passports, its federal government contracts have almost doubled since then.
This December 2007 press release suggests it will have a sizable bump in its fiscal 2008 or fiscal 2009 contract:
Stanley, Inc. SXE, a leading provider of systems integration and professional services to the U.S. federal government, today announced that it will build and manage a secure passport production center in Tucson, Ariz., for the U.S. Department of State. (emphasis added)
The Tucson facility was authorized under a 10-year contract with State.
The release goes on to say that this new facility will add 150 employees and contractors to the current pool of 4,400 -- and that this 3% increase in employees will <cough, cough> "significantly increase its production capacity to meet the growing demand for U.S. passports and continue to provide timely services to the American public."
We don't yet know how many people are working at State under Stanley's contracts. The math makes it pretty clear that Stanley's contract is insufficient to support all reported contractors. If all worked for Stanley, annual salaries would be $11,000-17,000, assuming ratio of salary-to-contract rate of 1-3 or 1-2.
And this job description in Houston shows that Stanley provides not just "processors" but managers, even if the job title is "supervisor." [Is State susceptible to the same "contractor but really real employee" legalities that apply to firms like Microsoft?]
Includes planning, directing and coordination of the daily activities of... Responsible for resolving administrative, personnel, and operating problems associated with management of employees in their job in order to assure timely issuance of passports.
One more, also in Houston:
This manager plans, directs and coordinates all task areas of passport production.
Our passport records are supposedly protected by the Privacy Act of 1974 and the data are also accessible by the IRS. This latest breach is yet another example of the perils of inadequate safeguarding of digitized personal data. Remember: your government wants to put ALL of your private data into one big database, "guarded" and "developed" by firms like Stanley, Inc. with oversight by non-existent Inspector Generals and a mostly asleep-at-the-wheel Congress. Don't say you weren't warned.
This article first appeared @ US Politics at About.com