Republicans slam TSA for spending $50M on uniforms in run-up to sequester

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is under fire for a $50 million uniform purchase it made in the days leading up to the budget cuts from sequestration.

Republicans are criticizing the agency for making the purchase even as it was warning that the sequester would result in longer airport security lines because of furloughs.

TSA said the contract for new uniforms replaced a deal that expired before the sequester took effect.

“The current contract to replace worn uniforms and provide uniforms for new hires expired on February 17, 2013,” TSA said in a statement. “The new DHS-wide contract to purchase all component uniforms won’t take effect until next year, so TSA signed an interim two-year contract on February 22, 2013 with a $50-million dollar ceiling to continue to procure new uniforms.”

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That explanation has not stopped GOP lawmakers from seizing on the contract as evidence that the Obama administration oversold the damage from sequestration.

“I find it deeply disturbing that as Secretary Napolitano is running around scaring people by saying she is going to have to furlough employees because of sequester, that she would also spend $50 million of taxpayer money on new uniforms. This is a classic failure in leadership,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in a statement.

“DHS has the flexibility it needs in the sequester to cut waste, fraud, and abuse from its budget,” Blackburn continued. “Instead, Secretary Napolitano is making the active decision to furlough personnel and is trying to manufacture a scenario where passengers have to wait in longer lines.”

Before the sequester began last Friday, TSA said the budget cuts would result in airport security screeners being furloughed up to seven days for the rest of 2013.

The sequestration order requires federal agencies to cut their budgets by approximately 9 percent to achieve $85 billion in cuts to 2013 spending. 

TSA said the amount of money it spends on uniforms was in line with what is spent by other agencies.

“Without the contract bridge, TSA would not have been able to procure additional uniforms which are lower than or equal to the cost of any other uniform worn by officers in the federal government,” the agency said. 

The agency added that the $50 million price for its uniforms “represents the contract’s maximum value, not the amount expended.”