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No-bid deals ripe for waste

Audit finds Alaska Native contracts open to abuse

Posted: Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Alaska Native contracts audited

An audit by the Government Accountability Office found substantial gaps in government oversight for Alaska Native corporation contracts. The audit examined 16 contracts awarded by seven agencies from 2000 to 2004. The companies reviewed and the contract dollar amounts, listed by government department or agency:

Defense Department:

• Chugach Management Services Inc., $593 million

• Chugach Management Services Inc., $230 million

• ASRC Airfield & Range Services Inc., $50 million

• Bowhead Manufacturing Co. LLC, $33 million

Energy Department:

• Ahtna Government Services Corp., $80 million

• Sage Systems Technologies LLC, $25 million

Homeland Security Department:

• Ahtna Technical Services Inc., $20 million

• Ahtna Technical Services Inc., $11 million

Interior Department:

• TKC Communications LLC, $100 million

• Field Support Services Inc., $65 million

NASA:

• Akima Corp., $60 million

• ASRC Aerospace Corp., $32 million

State Department:

• KUK/KBRS Global, a joint venture between Kuk Construction LLC and Kellogg Brown & Root Services Inc., $145 million

• Alutiiq Fluor Constructors LLC, a joint venture between Alutiiq Management Services LLC and Fluor Federal Services, $55 million

Transportation:

• Bowhead Information Technology Services Inc., $200 million

• Bowhead Support Services, a division of Bowhead Transportation Company Inc., $20 million

Web links

For more on Government Accountability Office, check out: http://www.gao.gov

For more on Native American Contractors Association, check out: http://www.nativeamericancontractors.org/

WASHINGTON - From Iraq reconstruction to Hurricane Katrina, poor contracting oversight enables Alaska Native corporations to capitalize on multimillion-dollar no-bid deals at a potential cost to taxpayers and small businesses, a federal audit says.

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A draft report by the Government Accountability Office, obtained Tuesday, indicates gaps in the overseeing of federal contracts, which have boomed in recent years in part due to provisions backed by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

Courtney Boone, a spokeswoman for Stevens, said the senator encouraged the Native corporations to apply for the contracts funneled to minority-run companies through the Small Business Administration's 8(a) Business Development Program.

Stevens also encouraged the Native corporations to participate in the GAO review, Boone added.

The GAO audit of 16 no-bid contracts found that administration agencies routinely picked Alaska Native firms - which can be designated legally as "small and disadvantaged," regardless of their size - to bypass burdensome competition requirements and fill small business quotas.

At the same time, government officials did little to determine if the Alaska firms might be gaining an unfair competitive advantage or serving as illegal fronts for large businesses that were doing a majority of the work, according to the draft report.

"There is clearly potential unintended consequences or abuse," said the GAO report, which was being circulated for comment and possible revision before its expected release later this month, according to the Associated Press.

Boone said it was her understanding that the report would be released in May.

Stevens, who was traveling Tuesday, had not yet been briefed on the GAO report, Boone said. "We can't offer a reaction to it," Boone said.

Two Southeast Alaska Native corporations - Juneau-based regional Sealaska Corp. and Hoonah's Huna Totem Corp. - contacted Tuesday did not provide a immediate response to the leaked report. The Anchorage-based Chugach Alaska Corp., which owns Chugach Management Services, Inc. - a firm that obtained two of the contracts investigated in the report - declined to comment.

The draft report quotes unnamed agency officials who called the 8(a) process an "open checkbook" and said they would be "laughed out of the office" if they raised compliance concerns.

The 16 contracts investigated in the report include a $145 million State Department contract with Kuk Construction LLC, which is working in a joint venture for security work with Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, which has separately been criticized for no-bid work in Iraq. Another questionable contract was a $60 million NASA contract for technical services with Akima Corp., recently cited separately by auditors for inflated prices for Hurricane Katrina classroom work.

Raul Cisneros, a spokesman for the Small Business Administration, which has primary responsibility for certifying Alask firms and monitoring their contracts, responded that the SBA is still reviewing the draft report. The agency will submit its comments to the GAO "by April 19 as they required."

"We trust the GAO will consider our comments before the report is released," Cisneros said.

Rep. Tom Davis, chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, said his panel would hold a hearing in June to investigate possible fraud and waste in the Alaska contracts. The committee already has planned a separate hearing on Katrina contracting in the coming weeks.

"The potential for abuse with these contracts is, and has been, a concern," said Robert White, spokesman for Davis, a Virginia Republican who requested the GAO audit.

Davis and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., both began raising questions about the Alaska Native contracts with federal agencies last spring.

Created under a 1971 law aimed at resolving historical land disputes, Alaska Native corporations have picked up more no-bid government work in recent years as dwindling, time-strapped agency staffs turned to them as a way to fulfill small business goals.

From 2000 to 2004, the number of ANC contracts awarded jumped fourfold to $1.1 billion, of which 77 percent were awarded without competition. The firms have won contracts to train security guards in Iraq, maintain scanning machines at ports and borders and operate search-and-rescue boats in the South Pacific.

ANCs enjoy several contracting privileges that were written into law partly at the behest of Stevens, the powerful Senate Appropriations member and former chairman who has helped make Alaska one of the top recipients of federal largesse.

The companies, for example, are exempted from a $5 million cap on no-bid contracts imposed on other small and disadvantaged firms, and they don't have to be run by Native Alaskans.

Profits go to shareholders and the Alaskan community in the form of dividends, scholarships, jobs and training. Stevens and the Native Alaskans have said they receive preferential treatment to improve the lives of their community.

But in the GAO report, auditors said they found no evidence that the SBA or the contracting agencies were effectively monitoring ANC's subcontracting arrangements with large firms to see if ANCs were the ones getting the primary benefits.

Agencies also told auditors that they often awarded ANC contracts - including one $80 million construction agreement with the Energy Department - based on an understanding that it subcontract with large firms the government actually wanted.

"As a result, there is an increased risk that an inappropriate degree of the work is being done by large businesses rather than by the ANC firm," the GAO draft report said.

• Juneau Empire reporter Elizabeth Bluemink contributed to this report.



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