Just in time for the NIE’s assessment that the U.S. faces a “heightened threat environment,” a House Oversight subcommittee hearing tomorrow will highlight the curious tale of the Wackenhut Corp. Wackenhut is one of the nation’s largest private security companies, and over the last few years it’s been awarded millions in government contracts to protect nuclear facilities, Army bases, transportation infrastructure, and much more. The trouble is that where Wackenhut goes, complaints of lax security often follow.
Wackenhut has the contract to secure the Army’s Holston Ammunition Plant in Tennessee. Last year, guards at the plant told lawmakers that boaters were easily able to float into restricted areas at the riverfront facility, and that Wackenhut only bolstered patrols when it knew that Army inspectors were up for a visit. Wackenhut has contracts to secure 31 nuclear power plants around the country. Last year, the Project on Government Oversight reported that Wackenhut nearly got employees killed by not stopping a mock terrorism-response exercise at the Oak Ridge nuclear facility in time. Perhaps most egregiously, the Department of Homeland security opted last year not to renew Wackenhut’s contract to protect DHS’s Washington headquarters after guards told the AP about numerous security breaches — including a botched anthrax scare. (Wackenhut security officials actually took the “suspicious white powder” into the office of Secretary Michael Chertoff and sprinkled it out of his window into the area below.)
Not the most union-friendly company on the planet, Wackenhut often blames its bad press on disgruntled employees. Making the feeling mutual, the Service Employees International Union keeps a website, EyeOnWackenhut.com, compiling the myriad complaints — some legal, some in the court of public opinion — made against Wackenhut.
Yet Wackenhut keeps landing lucrative contracts. Tomorrow, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) is holding a hearing of his House Oversight subcommittee to find out why that is. Along with a number of Energy and Homeland Security procurement officials and inspector-generals, a former Wackenhut guard at Homeland Security named Robin Smith will testify about the company’s shaky standards of performance — and how they don’t appear to influence the government’s willingness to give Wackenhut a pass. It doesn’t seem that the company is sending anyone to refute the allegations, but expect a vigorous response from the Florida-based company all the same.