Post-9/11 Rush Mixed Politics With Security
Sunday, December 25, 2005
As a small start-up company in Massachusetts sought to become a major player in the business of homeland security, it hired a lobbyist and attended a fundraiser for one of the most powerful members of Congress.
The company was Reveal Imaging Technologies Inc. The congressman was Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers (R-Ky.). The fundraiser, held Oct. 22, 2003, brought in $14,000 from Reveal and was the beginning of a mutually beneficial association.
Reveal had just received a government grant to develop smaller, cheaper explosives-detection machines to scan baggage at the nation's airports. Rogers, who chairs the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, said he wanted the machines to improve security while saving taxpayers money.
In the end, Reveal received a federal contract from the Transportation Security Administration worth up to $463 million. Rogers achieved his goal of launching the next generation of machines. In the process, he received $122,111 in donations to his leadership political action committee from Reveal executives and associates -- and a pledge from the company to move $15 million worth of work to Rogers's poor Appalachian congressional district.
Reveal's dealings with Rogers illuminate the intersection of politics, money and homeland security in the rush to make the nation safer since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The relationship fits into a long tradition of companies seeking sympathetic ears on Capitol Hill and of lawmakers securing money for their causes and their constituents back home.
What is different today is that the money at stake is the billions of dollars that the White House and Congress have set aside for homeland security at a time of persistent fear about another terrorist attack.
A Washington Post review of scores of documents, along with interviews with company executives, government officials and procurement specialists, shows that while Reveal was developing a machine that would receive accolades, it also was donating to Rogers's PAC and hiring two lobbying firms to help smooth the way with the government. Rogers pressed homeland security officials to deploy the Reveal machines and take other measures that he said would make the country safer while his PAC received donations from homeland security contractors, some of which he encouraged to create jobs in his district.
In an eight-page letter to The Post, Reveal executives said there was no "connection between voluntary political contributions" to Rogers's PAC and the awarding of the contract. The president of the company said Reveal secured the contract strictly on the merits of its technology after a "rigorous and objective" certification process.
"Members of Reveal's management team, and others, make these voluntary contributions to Representative Rogers, and many other elected officials, because they share our concern about improving our Nation's Homeland Security technology, and for no other reason," Reveal president and chief executive Michael P. Ellenbogen said in the letter.
"It is the scientists at the TSA -- not Congress -- who decide what systems meet the government's rigorous requirements," he said.
TSA officials said Rogers played no role in the contracting process.
"The decision to award the contract to Reveal was based on the source selection team's conclusion that it offered the best value to the government," TSA spokeswoman Yolanda Clark said.