A Subcontractor's Short But Lucrative Existence

By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Scott Higham
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 30, 2005

The company hired to manage the complex logistics on one of the biggest homeland security contracts since Sept. 11, 2001, came out of nowhere.

Eclipse Events Inc., formed by two women with ties to the travel industry, first incorporated in Carlsbad, Calif., on March 28, 2002 -- two weeks after it received its $1.1 million no-bid subcontract from NCS Pearson Inc. That contract eventually grew to $24 million.

"Eclipse did not have any other work, before, during or after the completion of this subcontract," government auditors later found. A Defense Contract Audit Agency report obtained by The Washington Post said auditors could not substantiate $15 million of the work invoiced by Eclipse.

Eclipse was among the 168 subcontractors hired by Pearson to help it meet congressional deadlines to hire 60,000 airport passenger screeners by Nov. 19, 2002. Pearson was in the process of moving its assessment centers for applicants from its own private sites to hotels and other facilities nationwide.

In an interview yesterday, Pearson officials said they hired Eclipse because they were "recommended to us by a knowledgeable industry source." Pearson spokeswoman Eileen Cassidy Rivera said Pearson tried out other firms and picked Eclipse.

For Pearson, Eclipse hired contract employees around the country to help manage hotel staffers, vendors and security personnel, as well as to secure supplies and other necessities for the hotel assessment centers.

Listed as chief executive, secretary and chief financial officer in state corporate records is one person: Sunnye Sims, 42. Sims is a travel industry entrepreneur who now serves as a program director at an Evangelical Free Church in Southern California. She served as marketing and sales director for a group called the International Travel Directors Association in Orlando.

State records show that Sims worked closely with Nita Sullivan, the president of the Travel Directors association. Sullivan also served as an Eclipse vice president, the audit said.

Sims claimed $5.4 million in pay for nine months' work, the audit found. She also gave herself a $270,000 pension.

Eclipse also paid $5.2 million to an Orlando company called WJS Consulting Inc., which Sullivan formed four months after Eclipse was hired as a Pearson subcontractor, auditors found. Eclipse's accounting records were kept at WJS in Orlando, according to the audit.

Pearson's original contract with Eclipse was to be worth a little more than $1 million. Pearson raised the ceiling on the contract to $3 million on July 10, 2002, and to $24 million on Dec. 2, 2002. Auditors said they could find no explanation for the increase.

Eclipse originally told Pearson it would bill $250 or $350 per day for each of its workers, depending on their responsibilities. Auditors later discovered that the company billed $410 and $525 per day for each worker. The auditors found other discrepancies in the contract. Many of the invoices submitted by Eclipse included "dry cleaning charges and cell phone usage, which totaled to several hundred thousand dollars," according to the audit. Auditors said they could find no documentation supporting the charges.

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