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The High Cost of a Rush to Security

Skyrocketing Costs

"I paid the contractor to do that," Lieber said.

A Costly Decision

The decision to move the screener interviews to hotels from Pearson's assessment centers has been cited as one of the key reasons for the increase in the contract's cost. Exactly how the decision was made is in dispute.

The audit turned up a Pearson program-management review dated March 29, 2002, attributing the decision to TSA official Pamela E. Pearson (she has no family ties to NCS Pearson). The reason for the change: "For the purpose of efficiency," according to the Pearson review document.

When auditors asked for documentation from the TSA about the decision, the agency's legal office responded that "there was no written documentation" for the change and that the hotels and other locations were chosen by Pearson.

Pamela Pearson is now the vice president and general manager of Covenant Aviation Security LLC, a company that works with the TSA to provide private passenger screeners at airports. She denied that TSA officials directed Pearson officials to use the air marshal model and to move the work to hotels.

"We didn't specify it had to be hotels," Pamela Pearson said. "We did not dictate the method. . . . At no point in time did I direct them to use the [air marshal] model. I left it up to them."

Pamela Pearson said the idea of using the air marshal model emerged from her discussions with colleagues at the TSA and with Michael P. Jackson, then deputy transportation secretary and now second-in-command of the Department of Homeland Security.

Pearson officials maintain they were given no choice and did not make the decision themselves.

"Why would we want to change a model that we spent a lot of time preparing?" said Pearson spokeswoman Eileen Cassidy Rivera. "Why would we do that? There's no logic to it."

Current TSA officials said Pearson agreed with them to use the air marshal model. They said they took the action in consultation with Pearson because the company's original plan -- to use its own assessment centers -- was being tested at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and was not working well.

The TSA officials said they thought the air marshal model would give them more control over the hiring process, with all the work done at a central location.

To book the hotels, Pearson turned to a company called HelmsBriscoe Inc., a travel-and-event coordination firm. Even though Pearson never had a formal contract with the company, HelmsBriscoe became the hotel agent for the passenger-screening hiring effort, taking 10 percent off the top of every room it booked, according to the audit.

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