Waste and Dysfunction
The story of ISIS, designed to monitor the large swaths of the nation's borderlands that agents cannot physically protect, is a tale of wasted taxpayer money and bureaucratic dysfunction.
The GSA inspector general's report said official inattention to the system "placed taxpayers' dollars and . . . national security at risk." A GSA inspection of eight Border Patrol zones found that $20 million had been paid to IMC for work there but that none of its camera systems was fully operating.
A faulty camera is supposed to monitor the border crossing near Blaine, Wash. Many of the cameras had shoddy wiring, GSA found.
(Jeff Vinnick For The Washington Post)
Map of ISIS: Over eight years, contractors installed a high-tech network of cameras and sensors to help the U.S. Border Patrol spot and track intruders. Now U.S. officials and some contractors are under investigation for poor contract oversight and project overcharges.
Near Buffalo, IMC billed the government for 59 cameras but only four were installed, and in Naco, Ariz., unassembled high-tech gear was found lying in the desert, the report said. "No IMC personnel had been on-site since the equipment was delivered" in 2003, the report added.
The most troubled part of ISIS was in Washington state, where the more than 64 cameras fogged up in cold and rain and sometimes broke down completely, according to Border Patrol officials and the GSA report. IMC-hired workers had done such shoddy wiring of fiber-optic cable at junction boxes that Border Patrol operators couldn't control the cameras, according to the officials and documents. Electrical wires were found corroding under water in supposedly sealed concrete vaults, they said.
The GSA report found that IMC was paid about $1 million up front to install 36 poles to hold multiple cameras in Washington state, but in fact had installed only 32. Contract documents executed by both GSA and the company "misrepresented the work that was actually furnished," it said.
It was common, the GSA report said, for the government to pay IMC "for shoddy work . . . [or] for work that was incomplete or never delivered."
IMC's Acri said the Washington project was "a nightmare" but blamed it on miscommunications with Border Patrol officials. L-3 has fixed many of the problems there recently, but Border Patrol agents still complain of malfunctions and blind spots.
The GSA inspector general's report also sharply criticized operations at a Border Patrol repair center in New Mexico staffed by two Border Patrol officials and 19 IMC employees. Many Border Patrol agents complained that repairs on the ISIS equipment they sent there took months to complete.
The GSA report said "little or no work" was done at the center in the previous year, even though IMC billed the government for $500,000 during that time. The report said millions of dollars in IMC overcharges might have occurred there.
The Border Patrol official who ran the center, David Watters, acknowledged he had a brother and a niece who worked for IMC. But he said his relatives' jobs did not affect his dealings with the company.
Watters said that the GSA report was unfair and that the center's slowdown in repairs was caused by the halt in ISIS work. IMC's Acri disputed some of the GSA's findings, saying it failed to accept his assertions that IMC did not profit improperly.
The GSA report and numerous government and industry executives said Border Patrol, INS and GSA officials -- most of whom lacked experience on complex contracts -- often deferred to IMC in deciding what equipment to buy and how much IMC should be paid. The GSA report said IMC's contracts with the government lacked detail, "thereby leaving interpretation of the government's needs up to the contractor."
"Government officials failed miserably to do their job," said Tim Golden, an IMC subcontractor on the program who later had a falling out with IMC. "It's incomprehensible how inept they were."
Many ISIS documents were drawn up in such a way that IMC was paid up front, and escaped financial liability if its performance was disputed, said the GSA report and U.S. officials.