KCMO Homeland Security official under fire for awarding quarter-million dollar contract to neighbor

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A high-ranking federal law enforcement official with the Department of Homeland Security is accused of orchestrating a quarter-million dollar government contract for his friend and next-door neighbor, a 41 Action News investigation discovered.

Whistleblowers brought the allegations to light and caused the federal agency's Inspector General to investigate.  The ensuing probe found several violations, and concluded there were improper influence, an undisclosed conflict of interest, and multiple violations with the contract process.

However, critics contend the high-ranking federal official is escaping the controversy with barely a slap on the wrist, while other employees would have been fired for similar transgressions.

Over the past month, 41 Action News has reviewed internal investigations, spoken with a whistleblower and questioned the man at the center of the contentious contract.

Whistleblowers spark investigation

Two years ago, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) received a confidential allegation that a federal law enforcement official was "involved in a procurement fraud scheme involving the purchase of surveillance equipment."

The employee is David Olson, regional director of the Federal Protective Service (FPS) in the Kansas City area. The branch of Homeland Security is in charge of protecting and providing security at all federally-owned or leased buildings.

Olson is the highest-ranking FPS law enforcement officer in the region and works out of the Richard Bolling Federal Building in downtown Kansas City.

According to the OIG report, a whistleblower accused Olson of violating several agency regulations by arranging for his neighbor, who owns a security systems company in southern Johnson County, to win a quarter-million dollar contract.

The whistleblower also alleged the equipment purchased for $257,000 was only worth closer to $10,000, a claim the business owner adamantly denied.

Finally, the complaint claimed Olson allowed his neighbor, Brad Quigley, to draft the statement of work for the proposal and never disclosed the conflict of interest to his colleagues.

Inspector General's report discovers multiple violations

The ensuing investigation affirmed many of the whistleblower's accusations.

Completed last November, the report found Olson "did improperly influence and facilitate the award of the contract."

The OIG also uncovered emails showing Olson and Quigley discussed the contract approval process and the steps needed to "expedite" it about eight months before the contract posted for bid.

Another email showed Quigley wrote the statement of work for the portable security equipment proposal and then followed up with his neighbor: "Hi (Olson), just checking in to see how the systems look for your team."

During an interview with OIG investigators, Quigley confirmed writing the work proposal and emailing it to Olson. He added he'd known his next-door neighbor for about eight years, saying they have spent time golfing and drinking beers.

Quigley operates his business, 4G Solutions, out of his Leawood home and did not initially respond to a phone call, email or door knock from 41 Action News seeking comment.

However, Quigley contacted 41 Action News on Tuesday night to defend the value of the cameras purchased by the federal government.

"The claim of the equipment being only worth $10,000 is blatantly false," Quigley told 41 Action News. "This was an open-market bid and I was the low bidder."

The contract was the subject of two bidding periods. In the first, Quigley was the only bidder, which fell short of the minimum requirement. In the second, Quigley was the lowest of three bids, with the highest bid coming in a $347,000.

"I worked with the contracting officer during the solicitation," Quigley told 41 Action News.

Meanwhile, Olson appeared to be less forthcoming with investigators. While admitting he never told anyone Quigley was his neighbor, Olson denied having conversations with him regarding solicitation or bidding of the contract.

Even after being presented with the email indicating Quigley wrote the proposal, Olson looked at it and told investigators, "I don't know that for certain."

Charges declined, agency makes punishment recommendation

At the time of the OIG investigation, the portable surveillance equipment had never been used.
However, FPS management claimed the systems were needed as a backup in case the normal building surveillance cameras failed.

"The investigation did not produce any evidence that FPS wasted funds on the purchase," the report said.

The whistleblower who spoke with 41 Action News said the equipment is still sitting in boxes three years after the purchase. He is certain it will never be deployed.

"This is fraud, waste and abuse," the whistleblower said. "It's an expensive favor for a buddy on the government's dime."

The OIG presented the case to the US Attorney's Office, which declined to prosecute.

In response to the findings, the FPS said it was charging Olson with "conduct unbecoming of a federal employee" and proposed a suspension of 14 days.

"There lacks any evidence that (Olson) knew what he was doing was wrong, took the actions knowing they were wrong, and subsequently lied to investigators about it," wrote an FPS attorney.

Olson later entered into an alternative dispute agreement. A congressional source on the House Homeland Security Committee who has inquired about the situation told 41 Action News Olson's punishment was lowered to a three-day suspension that is deferred for two years.

The FPS said its own failures along the way may have enabled the controversial situation. Personnel who typically review all bid proposals and come up with independent costs estimates were completely cut out of the loop, investigators found.

As a result, the FPS created a new position for a "technical advisor," who is responsible for assisting senior management like Olson with contract oversight.

41 Action News made a formal request for an interview with Olson, but an FPS spokeswoman said he was not permitted to discuss the situation.

41 Action News later approached Olson at Kansas City Airport as he prepared to leave on a flight for D.C. The regional director only offered a "no comment" or remained silent as 41 Action News asked several questions about the conflict of interest.

‘Overly lenient' discipline questioned

The situation was also examined by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. A whistleblower had also contacted the OSC with similar allegations about the questionable contract.

After reviewing all documentation, including the whistleblower's reaction to the proposed discipline, OSC Attorney Carolyn Lerner issued a report to President Obama with her findings.

"I'm sympathetic to the whistleblower that it appears the agency was overly lenient," Lerner wrote. "Mr. Olson holds a senior position in the FPS and he improperly influenced and facilitated the award of a government contract to a friend and neighbor."

David Wright is the president of AFGE Local 918, the union representing about 900 FPS employees, and he agreed the punishment seemed minor considering the circumstances.

"He should know better," Wright told 41 Action News. "Just the appearance of that conflict of interest is extremely disappointing. Most employees would be significantly disciplined or fired for this."

Wright said another FPS employee received a similar proposed 14-day suspension for smoking in a federal vehicle.

Questions remain as whistleblowers push for further investigation

The whistleblower who spoke with 41 Action News is the most bothered by the regional director's answers to OIG investigators.

"He lied," the whistleblower said. "It spelled it out in the report. When blatantly asked the questions, he tap-danced around them and wasn't truthful. If you lose credibility in law enforcement, you can't testify in court."

Based on the documents reviewed by 41 Action News, it appeared there was never an analysis of how much the portable security equipment should have cost.

Quigley said the equipment was purchased at a fair price on the open market, noting his position as low bidder.

However, whistleblowers claimed the rapid deployment kits were only valued at a fraction of the $257,000 price tag.

A Kansas City area security camera business owner researched the equipment purchased by the federal government, according to the technical requirements listed in the solicitation. He told 41 Action News that even with his most generous estimate, it appeared taxpayers overpaid by at least double what the equipment should cost.

Noting the controversy's effect on FPS employee morale, the whistleblower told 41 Action News he hopes the situation attracts further investigation and perhaps the attention of lawmakers in Washington D.C.

"It's wrong. It's something that needs attention," he said. "We have a lot of waste in the government and the only way to clean it up is for people to step forward."

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@kshb.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Facebook. 

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