And that was just his opening statement.
The homeland security committee’s oversight and management efficiency subcommittee, which Perry chairs, had convened to discuss a recent watchdog report that concluded the service is not managing its vehicle fleet effectively. The report by DHS Inspector General John Roth found that the service leased nearly 1,100 of the expensive SUVs, some of which came equipped with rechargeable flashlights, devices to carry bike racks and a digital keyless remote entry system with a six-tone siren.
The agency, Roth wrote, could not justify the need for such an expensive and vast fleet, which included 101 more law enforcement vehicles than the number of full-time Federal Protective Service law enforcement positions. He said the agency could have saved more than $2.5 million last year by being more cost-effective. The protective service, part of DHS, provides security and law enforcement services to more than 9,500 federal facilities in Washington and nationwide.
In the hearing, Perry started right in on the DHS officials testifying before him, saying that his staff had calculated that the protective service has far more vehicles per office than other DHS agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
L. Eric Patterson, the service’s director, responded that he urgently needs a vehicle fleet,. given that he oversees about 1,000 law enforcement officers in all 50 states who often have to travel hours to respond to incidents at federal facilities.
“Our folks are on the road a lot. Vehicles break down,” he said. “We must have vehicles as a backup if in fact vehicles break down.”
DHS officials concurred with the suggestions for improvement in Roth’s report, including better monitoring and documentation of vehicle acquisitions and leasing decisions, but they have also emphasized the urgent need for the service to have and maintain a vehicle fleet.
Perry wasn’t buying it, saying every service officer is given a vehicle to take home. “I find no way to justify what you have laid out for me,” he said. “…I’m assuming you guys have lived in the real world. I drive my car to work. My wife drives her car to work. Most people, they take transportation, they handle their own transportation. They don’t get a vehicle provided to them.”
Thomas Chaleki, a senior official in DHS’s management directorate, said the protective service doesn’t allow personal use of vehicles and has “stringent rules” governing who gets a “home to work” one.
Perry interrupted him. “Sir, how stringent can it be when every officer has a vehicle?” he said.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, asked more gentle questions. She wondered if it would impede response time to dangerous incidents at federal facilities if officers had to first go to the office and pick up a car before responding.
“It absolutely does,” Patterson replied. “When we are responding to an emergency, time is of the essence.”
But Perry, who dominated the questioning, ended the hearing with a not-so-veiled warning. “We don’t want to be overly harsh here, but understand, we are the stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” he told the DHS officials. “We don’t want to tell you how to do your business. We don’t want to have this meeting again… but if this continues, if Mr. Roth brings this report to us again next year and it’s not substantially different, we’re going to do the same dance.
“And there’s probably going to be legislation that gets in your business,” Perry added, without being specific. “And it’s going to be bad for all Americans.”