The Port of Houston private security contract questioned www.privateofficer.com
Houston TX July 13 2011 The Port of Houston Authority may require companies bidding for port business to state whether they have conflicts of interest with authority employees or commission members, officials said Tuesday.
The proposal is among changes being discussed by the commission after an anonymous letter pointed to a potential conflict of interest in a $14.8 million security contract that was renewed for a second three-year term in April.
Commissioners on Tuesday voted to continue the contract with U.S. Security Associates, which provides unarmed officers at terminal gates, on a month-to-month basis until new procurement rules can be put in place and the contract can be rebid.
Commissioner Janiece Longoria said her procurement task force has asked port staff to draft the forms bidders would be asked to sign. The committee also asked for procedures to speed the reporting and investigating of conflicts of interest, along with an anonymous hotline for employees to report such concerns.
“The public should be confident that the port commission will take the steps necessary to assure that our contracting is transparent and free of conflicts of interest,” Longoria said.
Port officials refused to release the letter or other companies’ bids on the security contract, but Longoria said at least two other bids were lower than that of U.S. Security Associates, known as USSA.
Attorney David Brown, who advises the port, said the gap between bids was 4 percent, suggesting another bid was roughly $600,000 less than USSA’s.
Port CEO Alec Dreyer said USSA’s performance during the last three years helped its selection. The company has not been cited by the U.S. Coast Guard for any miscues in its three years, Dreyer said.
The potential conflict exists between Danny Foster Sr., a security manager at two port terminals, and his son, Danny Foster Jr., who works for Eagle I Security, a subcontractor for USSA.
Danny Foster Sr. did not review USSA’s bid, but did help evaluate other companies’ proposals before the bids were reviewed by management, Brown said. The elder Foster could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Troubled by delay
Though Dreyer said the anonymous letter was submitted to port staff May 19, he said he was not told until June 9. Dreyer said the delay concerned him and that he had addressed it with his staff.
“Our corporate governance policies and procedures and the way we do business must be enhanced and must be as transparent and equitable as possible,” Dreyer said later Tuesday.
Longoria said the procurement task force did not learn of the letter until June 17. She and commissioners Kase Lawal, Elyse Lanier and Jimmy Burke said they were troubled by the delay.
“The entire commission should have known about that complaint that was filed within 30 minutes to an hour after it happened,” Burke said.
The incident is the latest hurdle for the port, which is being investigated by the Harris County Attorney and District Attorney’s offices and will face a state Sunset Commission review of its operations and policies beginning this fall.
‘Lot of work to be done’
Among the subjects of the county attorney’s probe are the way the port prepares its meeting agendas and conducts its meetings. On Tuesday, the commission ditched a closed session it had planned before a strategic planning workshop when county attorneys pointed out the workshop agenda showed no items to justify a closed-door session under Texas open meetings laws.
“I thought we were making pretty good progress in trying to do our review,” Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said. “Obviously, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Scrutiny of the port ramped up in May, when Longoria and Lanier raised concerns about whether Dreyer improperly used the port’s vessel for a private function, and possible conflicts of interest involving Chairman Jim Edmonds’ relationship with AECOM, a company that does business with the port, among other things. Edmonds’ contract with the firm ended in March, he later said.