Through a series
of missteps, the Transportation Security Administration
has run afoul of the world's leading gun manufacturers in
an attempt to award a three-year, $5 million contract for
the semiautomatic handguns it plans to give commercial airline
pilots to defend their cockpits.
agency drew the heaviest fire after it appeared to bow to
pressure from the office of Rep. J. D. Hayworth, R-Ariz.,
to drop a possible deal with the Austrian gunmaker Glock
and focus instead on buying guns from venerable Smith &
Wesson, an American-owned firm based in Hayworth's district.
after vigorous protests last month by Beretta, an Italian
handgun supplier to the U.S. military, and other firms did
TSA drop narrowly drawn contract specifications favorable
to Smith & Wesson and open up the competition industry-wide.
troubles over the handgun contract have renewed questions
in Congress over the agency's contracting practices, particularly
its apparent tendency to avoid competitive bidding for its
contracts. House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee
ranking member Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn., already has asked
GAO to look into more than 90 sole-source contracts valued
at over $50 million that have been awarded by TSA since
its inception a little over a year ago.
contracts "could easily and should have been competed
to safeguard federal tax dollars," Sabo said last month.
He declined comment Tuesday on TSA's attempt to buy handguns,
except to say through his spokesman that he remains "concerned
about sole-source contracts and mismanagement" at the
spokesman Robert Johnson defended the agency's actions Tuesday,
saying, "Everything we've done has been done by the
warranted, we'll make adjustments in a manner that is fair
to all," he said when asked about complaints from potential
bidders. "We have our top people ... managing it so
taxpayers will get the best deal."
agency has been under intense pressure from Congress to
accelerate the training and arming of commercial pilots
under the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act enacted last
November. The so-called Federal Flight Deck Officers program,
which allows pilots to volunteer for firearms training and
become certified law enforcement officers, took off in April
when TSA put the first 44 pilots through a six-day training
course in Georgia and gave them .40 caliber semiautomatic
pistols made by Glock.
next classes were to have started earlier this month, but
gun industry sources said the procurement troubles contributed
to a delay. TSA recently announced weekly classes would
resume this weekend in Georgia, but came under attack in
Congress last week for failing to consult key lawmakers
in deciding to move all training to a single remote site
in the New Mexico desert after Labor Day.
to several industry sources who spoke with CongressDaily
on the condition they or their firms would not be named
because of the still-pending contract award, TSA bought
Glocks for the first training class through an open-ended
contract between the Austrian firm and the Secret Service.
officials then began looking for another federal contract
with Glock on which they could piggyback for larger, extended
purchases, these sources said. Although TSA officials initially
favored buying revolvers—which trainers recommended as being
easier to maintain and use in the confined space of a cockpit,
sources said—they decided late last year that a .40-caliber
semiautomatic handgun should be the pilots' standard firearm—in
particular, a law enforcement model capable of firing a
magazine of 12 or more hollow-point bullets.
decision caught Smith & Wesson by surprise, which was
preparing to offer TSA its line of revolvers. Company executives
met with TSA officials in January and, according to one
well-informed source, "waved the flag a bit" to
argue that Smith & Wesson, which reverted from British
to American ownership two years ago, should have a fair
shot at supplying the guns-in-cockpits program.
Glocks were handed out to the first class of pilots in April,
so Smith & Wesson executives visited Hayworth's office
to complain that TSA might not seek open competition for
a long-term handgun contract. That, they argued, would shut
out the only U.S.-owned manufacturer of .40-caliber pistols
who was seeking to participate in the competition.
Hayworth spokesman confirmed the meeting took place, adding
that the issue was handled "at the staff level."
called over [to TSA] to express our concern about the initial
[procurement] process," Hayworth spokesman Larry Van
afterward, TSA announced it was soliciting bids for handguns
"under full and open competition." Van Hoose observed,
"That's all Smith & Wesson wanted."
the kind of gun TSA described in its solicitation on May
22 was so specific—it must have, for example, a "completely
concealed hammer" without a "spur," a minimum
12-round magazine of a certain size with the "spring
tension" of 10 coils, and an ability to fire 10,000
rounds without breaking down—that many potential bidders
cried foul. Among them were Beretta, SigArms and other handgun
suppliers to U.S. military services and law enforcement
agencies. Some pointed out that federal air marshals who
work for TSA aboard commercial airliners carry SigArms pistols
with visible hammers.
agency also invoked an arcane "Buy American" executive
order that made guns from Italian (Beretta), Austrian (Glock)
or other foreign firms ineligible, but exempted Russian-
and Chinese-made weapons. Adding to the firestorm was TSA's
insistence that the first 200 guns from an initial order
of up to 2,400 be delivered by July 1, a date that has slipped
is no gun company in the world that can deliver 200 guns
by [the latest deadline of] July 9th, with only a few weeks
notice, unless they had prior knowledge of the contract
award," protested an unidentified company in an exchange
of questions and answers that TSA posted on the the FedBizOpps
Web site for potential bidders. "It normally takes
45 to 90 days to make and deliver guns once an order is
received. This is the industry standard," the protester
wants to buy as many as 9,600 guns over the life of the
contract, which would expire Sept. 30, 2006. With .40 caliber
pistols costing about $500 each in the commercial market,
the contract may be worth $4.8 million to the winner, although
industry sources said the bragging rights may prove more
valuable to a company's business than the revenues.
June 12, Beretta filed a motion with a federal mediator
to suspend the contracting process, citing "a range
of restrictive and ... strange and inexplicable requirements"
for the handguns.
specifications may have been written "to thwart congressional
intent" that TSA train and arm airline pilots, or were
"so narrowly tailored" so that only one firearm
could qualify, Jeffrey Reh, general counsel at Beretta's
U.S. headquarters in Accokeek, Md., charged in the motion.
sent copies of the motion to House Transportation and Infrastructure
Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., whose
panel oversees TSA, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer,
D-Md., in whose district Beretta is based, but aides to
the lawmakers said neither of them intervened in the dispute.
that afternoon, TSA abruptly announced it was dropping all
of its controversial requirements, deleting those for the
concealed hammer and magazine coils, cutting the initial
delivery to 50 guns and waiving the "Buy American"
we filed our protest, the TSA was very prompt in meeting
with us," Reh said in an interview this week. "At
this point, we're satisfied."
Afterword:On Friday, July 18,
2003 the TSA announced their new firearm choice for
the armed pilot program - the H & K USP .40. Pilots
who have been trained with the Glock 22 will be reissued
the H & K and will be retrained with the new weapon.
Now that's efficiency! Editor
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