- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lawmakers say they will hold hearings to probe a Department of Homeland Security transportation contract, which members of Congress from both parties say raises procurement and security concerns.

Department officials have repeatedly defended both the way the contract was awarded and the security procedures under which it is operated. They have launched a counteroffensive on Capitol Hill, visiting with lawmakers in an attempt to assuage concerns.

Despite their efforts, Rep. Mike D. Rogers, Alabama Republican, chairman of the oversight subcommittee of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said yesterday that he wanted to hold a hearing on the contract award — to Alexandria-based Shirlington Limousine and Transportation.

Aides said later that he hoped the hearing could happen when Congress returns in mid-June from its Memorial Day recess, but that the timing would depend on when they were able to get documentation from the department.

The hearing is the latest in a series of moves that lawmakers have taken since the Shirlington contract came into the spotlight at the end of last month amid press reports that the company was under scrutiny as part of a congressional bribery probe.

The company has been accused of providing limousines that took prostitutes to parties where lawmakers — including former Rep. Randall “Duke” Cunningham, a California Republican now in federal prison after being convicted of corruption — were being entertained by intelligence and defense contractors. Shirlington’s owner, Christopher Baker, reportedly has a lengthy criminal record and a troubled financial history.

Last week, the committee’s ranking Democrat, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, wrote to the department’s inspector general, asking about how the contract was awarded.

He expressed concerns that the contract was not bid out properly, that the company might not qualify for the special “set-aside” status under which it was entitled to bid and that the department might not have fulfilled its due-diligence requirements in ascertaining that the company was a responsible contractor.

With a speed that surprised some familiar with the department’s often arthritic response to congressional requests, Chief Procurement Officer Elaine Duke met with Mr. Thompson last week and Wednesday provided written answers to the questions he had posed the inspector general.

In the letter, Miss Duke explained that Shirlington first won the contract in April 2004, under the set-aside provisions of a small-business program for “historically underutilized business zones,” known as HUBZone.

The program is administered by the Small Business Administration, which ruled that Shirlington qualified.

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