Staying the Course on Corruption

Today, the Associated Press reported that the Department of Homeland Security has decided to extend the contract of Shirlington Limousine, a Virginia-based company linked to the bribery scandal that ended the career of former California Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

Shirlington is a corporation which had a spotty past even before its DHS days. The company's owner, Christopher Baker, has a criminal record. Not surprisingly, Shirlington has had a history of poor service under his watch, and has had past contracts terminated by high profile Washington clients, among them Howard University in 2002.

This in and of itself has raised questions concerning why the Department of Homeland Security saw fit to hire Shirlington to begin with.  But what has sealed the company's reputation as a deeply questionable business partner is its linkage to one of the most unseemly scandals of this Republican Congress.

Currently, a federal investigation is underway concerning the role Shirlington played in the Duke Cunningham bribery case. Investigators are examining if the company's cars were used to transport former Rep. Cunningham and hired prostitutes to "hospitality suites." Mr. Cunningham resigned from Congress earlier this year and is currently in prison.
Under such circumstances, the investigation into Shirlington should be allowed to run its course before Homeland Security decides to renew any contract with the company, let alone one as lucrative as the $21 million per year deal just settled on.

Today, I sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff expressing my disappointment over his decision to allow this contract extension to go forward. To do so while questions of the company's impropriety remain unresolved is more than just irresponsible. It is also an insult to taxpayers who trust that their government won't use their hard-earned money to reward questionable clients in spite of their past misdeeds.

Because in the end, this is about much more than just one company. The fact that the Department of Homeland Security would so eagerly rehire Shirlington says a great deal about how resistant this Administration is to any effort that would return a sense of responsibility and accountability to Washington. It is dedicated to business as usual, despite the fact that misplaced priorities and rampant corruption - both of which were so clearly illustrated by the Cunningham case - are undermining our democracy and selling out the needs of the American people to the highest bidder.

It is long past time for a change in Washington, and long past time for an end to the bankrupt philosophy of government that was revealed by DHS's decision today.