Monday, September 28, 2009
Collin County Commissioners may finally award Fusion Center contract
The Collin County Observer has learned that the purchasing department will recommend the contract be awarded to ADB Consulting.
Both the agenda item and the published court packet (PDF) seem intentionally vague as to the winner of the award. Typically, the agenda item states to whom the contract is to be awarded, and the packet contains the proposed contract as well as the bid tabulation, showing all bids received. In this case, there is no information published other than the basic agenda item quoted above. (The Observer has submitted an Open Records request for the missing documents, and they will be posted here as soon as they are received.)
Despite the lack of published documentation, the Collin County Observer has learned that the purchasing department will recommend the contract be awarded to ADB Consulting.
According to sources at the county, ADB was far and away the lowest bidder.
The whole process of getting to the Fusion Center contract award has been as Alice said in Wonderland, "curiouser and curiouser."
ADB Consulting is a partnership between Dr. Robert Johnson (Dr. Bob) and his wife Anita Miller that operates out of their home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Dr. Johnson is the son of Plano's U.S. Congressman, Sam Johnson.
For over a year now, the Observer has documented over $1.3 million in "no bid" county contracts to ADB Consulting for Fusion Center operations. After a series of articles hit the national press, the commissioners court decided to put the Fusion Center operations contract out for competitive bid.
In a story broadcast last May on Channel 8, WFAA's Brett Shipp revealed that Dr. Bob, "played a major role in writing the bid specifications."
It was back in February when the bid specifications were distributed, the 'closing date' for receiving proposals was March 19. It has taken the county over six months to come to a decision to award the contract to ADB - despite the performance of ADB in writing a much publicized Fusion Center Bulletin, and despite charges that ADB was subcontracting in violation of federal nepotism prohibitions.
Collin County owns and operates the Fusion Center, more properly called the North Central Texas Fusion System (NCTFS), to collect and disseminate intelligence data for action and planning relating to homeland security, bio-terrorism, police actions, and natural disaster. The Fusion center collects and stores vast amounts of data on citizens and attempts to use the data to predict and plan for terrorist acts. It also shares much of its data with other regional law enforcement agencies for use in more traditional police work. The Fusion Center is primarily funded through federal grants. It collects no funds from cooperating agencies - all its services are free of charge.
The county has yet to face the real dilemma on the Fusion Center - what to do with it. It is becoming an albatross around the neck of the elected commissioners court, which is totally unqualified by training or temperament to manage an intelligence operation.
And there has been mismanagement:
- Several years of no-bid contracts to a politically well-connected insider
- Publication of the "Prevention Awareness Bulletin" (PAB) that quoted from inflammatory internet rumors to call for law enforcement to report on legal lobbying and protest activities by Muslin and anti-war groups. That goofy PAB received national attention, caused federal and state homeland security trainers to rush to Texas to "train and counsel" local personnel, became the subject of a US House of Representatives subcommittee hearing, was used as a "how not to do it" example at a national homeland security conference, and is still cited by the press as an example of what can go wrong whenever a new fusion center is proposed. The PAB was written by Dr. Bob Johnson.
- Revelations that ADB awarded Fusion Center contracts to the brother of one of its partners, and was accused of violations of federal ethics rules relating to nepotism
- Running a "Code Red" early warning system that was so ineffective that local cities believed they got better information from the TV weatherman
There are other concerns.
Several commissioners have also expressed concern of "unfunded programs" - if the federal funds dry up, the county would find itself with an expensive operation that would have to be paid for by local tax funds.
That will happen eventually and could happen soon. Federal Homeland Security grants filter down to the local level through a web of operational committees and organizations. Several of these are under the effective control of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The new DPS director previously was directly involved with the DPS fusion system. Reports form Austin lend credence to the rumors that he will keep most of the federal funding in Austin to complete the construction of the State's own fusion center.
The NCTFS is not the only Fusion Center operating in the region. The North Central Texas Council of Governments has built and is operating LEAP (Law Enforcement Analysis Portal). The City of Dallas has a fusion center called MOSAIC (PDF) (Metro Operations Support and Analytical Intelligence Center), and the Texas Department of Public Safety is building a statewide fusion center, The Texas Intelligence Center.
Operating an intelligence center is not one of the core or even traditional functions of a county government. To date, the NCTFS has provided little or no value to the citizens of Collin County and its continued viability is doubtful.
The commissioners court would do well to consider alternatives to owning a Fusion Center. There are other possibilities. One would be to merge the NCTFS with the other large regional system, LEAP, run by the NCTCOG. COG has a long history of operating regional, multi-jurisdictional programs. They already have contracts with many of the local police agencies for data sharing.
Another alternative might be to turn over the technology and data to the DPS. This past year, it has become apparent that DPS is in need of a core intelligence technology that works.
The commissioners court needs to take a hard look at its fusion center. It need to get an independent investigation of past financial and contract practices, and it needs to decide if operating the Fusion Center is in the long-term interests of the county's taxpayers.
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