When Tony Soprano grifted money from waste disposal companies, he didn’t just embezzle it. He used his influence from within the company to obtain “consulting” contracts. With a little paperwork, the fictitious mobster could collect fees without actually delivering anything tangible in return.
Although the government has set up various rules to prevent a Tony Soprano-style grift in which connected former employees plunder taxpayers through “consulting” contracts with their former employers, these rules apparently don’t apply to the FBI. If you find yourself wondering why the FBI lacks curiosity over the Biden and Clinton side hustles, it may be because the FBI has its own vehicle to enrich its elite alumni, a company called Tuva, LLC.
In late November, the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General issued a report summarizing outstanding recommendations that the Justice Department has yet to follow. Among these included recommendations following a September 2020 audit of a $60 million sweetheart contract to Tuva, a company that originally lost the competitive bidding process but obtained the contract anyway after filing a protest with the FBI. As of December 2019, Tuva collected $48 million in fees from the FBI out of the original $60 million maximum contract value.
Tuva claimed special preferences as a supposedly small and “disadvantaged” business. Yet, in practice, it became a golden goose for retirees and obviously had an inside track within the FBI. Among the subject matter experts (SMEs) Tuva employed to work on the FBI contract, a third were retired law enforcement officers from the federal government, most of whom retired early. Some went to work for Tuva within a year after retiring.
What did these former federal law enforcement officers (likely former FBI) do for the FBI? The inspector general noted that the FBI circumvented its own internal rules requiring monitoring of their work product. It wrote, “We also found that the FBI did not: maintain a complete contract file that included the justifications, decisions, and rationale for awarding the SME contract; delegate administrative oversight responsibilities to properly trained CORs; or prepare and enter TUVA’s performance evaluations into CPARS.” These safeguards exist to prevent influential retirees from collecting taxpayer money for no-work assignments.
Tuva’s initial contract with the FBI expired after one year. Since then, the FBI exercised several successive options to keep the gravy train flowing. But the inspector general noted that the FBI failed to prepare required written justifications for continuing the Tuva contract. It wrote, “We found that the Source Selection Decision Memorandum for the Tuva contract that the FBI provided to the OIG was not signed and dated, and therefore, was not properly executed . . . ”
FBI policy also requires its contracting unit to “review and provide legal advice on all acquisition packages with an anticipated value of $5 million or more,” but that the FBI did not submit individual Tuva task orders for review. This resulted in vague work assignments that Tony Soprano could have written, such as, “Provide other assistance as needed or as directed by the FBI Technical Supervisor in furtherance of the unit’s mission.” The inspector general further noted that even where the task orders specified work, the Tuva personnel were still “performing operational support tasks not listed in the task order [scope of work] and potentially prohibited by FBI policy.”
Tony wasn’t much on keeping records of his work for the waste disposal companies—for obvious reasons. Likewise, the FBI Tuva contract files lacked detail. The inspector general wrote, “We found that the file was missing contract-related documents and some documents were incomplete, lacking proper approval and signatures. The Contracting Officer stated that a removable storage device, which held contract-related documents, had been corrupted and that they were unable to retrieve the missing information.” No word on whether the FBI’s contracting department used the same IT group that lost all of the Mueller team’s text messages.
Federal rules require special training for “contracting officers” and “contracting officer’s representatives” (CORs), individuals authorized to bind the government in contracting decisions. Because of this training, these people are meant to resist sketchy contracting decisions. The FBI circumvented their authorized contracting officials. The inspector general found ”that although FBI personnel were performing COR duties on two SME task orders, the Contracting Officer never issued a formal COR delegation letter. Additionally, the FBI did not ensure that FBI personnel performing COR duties for these two SME task orders were properly certified CORs.”
Under normal circumstances, a federal agency paying millions of dollars for “consulting” work is supposed to generate performance evaluations grading the contractor’s work. Yet another indication of a Soprano-style arrangement, the inspector general found that “of the 20 [Tuva] task orders, the FBI never entered performance evaluations into CPARS for 12, or 60 percent, of them.” When the inspector general asked why the FBI paid millions of dollars to Tuva without evaluating its performance on so many task orders, “The FBI official acknowledged that the performance evaluations were not being completed and entered into CPARS.”
What’s worse is that the Tuva personnel employed to do FBI work were moonlighting for other entities and traveling to foreign countries without complying with reporting requirements. The inspector general wrote, “Ten of those we interviewed had engaged in outside employment. Of those 10, only 1 had reported their outside employment to the FBI, as required under the contract.” The inspector general further noted that Tuva employees’ unreported outside employment poses “risk to the FBI, such as divided loyalties, espionage or sabotage, and suspicious contacts. When an SME fails to report and obtain approval to engage in outside employment properly, the FBI is unable to assess the potential risk the outside employment could present to FBI operations.”
It further noted, “12 SMEs took at least 28 foreign travel trips that were required to be reported to the FBI. Of the 28 trips taken and reported to Tuva, 6 were not reported to the FBI as required.”
The inspector general did not directly comment upon the relatively few personnel Tuva assigned to the FBI. Just a few dozen assigned SMEs managed to wrack up $48 million in fees in four years. That’s a lot of money, and we’re left to ask what value the taxpayers received other than supplementing the retirement of former federal employees.