Lawmakers grill TSA official over $50 million uniform order amid sequester

Republican lawmakers took turns Thursday grilling the TSA over questionable decisions it made – including a $50 million contract for new uniforms -- around the same time it told the public it was facing severe budget cuts from the government sequester.

Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform took Deputy Administrator John Halinski to task over his agency’s handling of the sequester. They said the TSA knew in advance of the looming cuts and should have planned accordingly.

“You hijacked the agency and turned it into the worst example of a bureaucratic mess,” Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chided. 

Committee members pressed Halinski over a controversial $50 million contract the TSA signed with VF Imagewear Inc. for new uniforms for its workers. Critics say the cosmetic change was not needed and a waste of taxpayer money. Lawmakers said they had problems with the agency shelling out so much money for uniforms that could be manufactured in Mexico.  

According to VF Imagewear, Inc.’s annual report, the company manufactures clothing in Mexico, Europe, Central and South America, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

The contract was signed on Feb. 27 and is a one-year deal that would outfit TSA agents with shirts, pants and other uniform-related accessories. Security officers get a $446 allowance for uniforms each year.

In 2010, the TSA spent $12 million on uniforms; in 2011, $10.9 million and in 2012, $12.8 million. According to government documents, only 33 percent of all the items were manufactured in the U.S. 

Halinski testified that the agency has been fiscally responsible and “taken action to establish additional controls across the agency." He said the TSA would continue to do so in the future.

“We have canceled previously approved conferences, meetings that require travel, and training activities. This includes management control training, field oversight and compliance audits, operational and support program coordination planning and preparedness training,” he said. 

Mica, a Florida Republican, helped set up the Transportation Security Administration after the Sept. 11 attacks. Since then he has been very public about his criticism of it, frequently accusing it of over-spending and mismanagement. In the past, he’s referred to it as “the little bastard child I created.”

Halinski also testified that he does not expect the sequester to lead to furloughs for his agency, and his agency has not noticed longer lines at airports because of it.