Security Firm Awarded TSA Airport Screening Contract Despite ‘Significant Weaknesses’

Akal Security has donated twice as much to Democrats

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A security firm that has received more than $3 billion in federal contracts donates over two times more to Democrats than Republican candidates.

Akal Security, Inc. was recently awarded a $108 million contract with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to conduct screenings at Kansas City International Airport, after a two-year court battle that questioned whether the government conducted a fair and open bidding process.

Akal was first awarded the contract, worth $150.8 million, in April 2011. However, a competitor sued and won in federal claims court, forcing the TSA to rebid the contract.

Akal’s proposal was “characterized by significant weaknesses,” according to the court, and major errors by the TSA’s contracting division forced the contract to be set aside.

The court said the analysis for choosing between Akal and FirstLine Transportation Security, Inc., another government contractor, was “both irrational and inconsistent.”

“The FirstLine proposal was technically superior to the proposal submitted by [Akal], and the differences between those two proposals were far from insignificant,” the court said in September 2011. The company’s final proposal was rated with 33 strengths and no weaknesses, compared to Akal’s one strength and one weakness.

“The court concludes that TSA’s award decision was fundamentally flawed and must be set aside,” the ruling said.

The TSA was forced to reissue the contract, and start the bidding process over again, which it began in February 2012. Nevertheless, Akal still succeeded in securing the Kansas City airport security job, this time for a price 23 percent below the federal government’s cost estimate.

The government valued the five-year contract at $140.9 million. Akal was awarded a $108 million contract on Feb. 24.

Akal’s employees have donated nearly two-and-a-half times more to Democratic candidates than Republicans since 2008. The company donated a total of $105,050 to Democrats during that period, and $43,412 to Republicans.

“We play in the political arena like everyone else,” said Daya Singh Khalsa, Akal’s cofounder and president, in 2004. Khalsa and his wife had donated over $30,000 to Democrats and Republicans from 2000 to 2004. Since 2008, he has donated $30,650 exclusively to Democratic campaigns, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Roughly half of contributions since 2008 ($57,065) went to federal campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Ninety-one percent of their contributions went to Democrats in 2010, and the company has donated $8,850  to Democrats and $1,500 to Republicans this election cycle.

The company has also contributed much more to Democrats on the local level since 2008. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Akal has contributed $47,985 to Democrats and $26,840 to Republican campaigns.

Akal Security is part of Sikh Dharma International in New Mexico, a religious compound founded by Yogi Bhajan. A Sikh missionary and hippie guru, Bhajan practiced reincarnation, Hinduism, telepathy, and mysticism.

In the 1960s Bhajan claimed he could use his yogic powers to stop the rain, and that he received a vision that “America’s hippies needed his guidance.”

He encouraged one of his followers to found a security firm in 1980 after the man could not get a law enforcement job because of his beard and turban. Akal Security garnered more than $3.5 billion in government contracts between 2000 and 2010. Bhajan served as an adviser to Akal, and was a paid consultant on management issues.

Bhajan died in 2004, prompting former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D.), one of the biggest recipients of Akal’s political donations, to order flags flown at half-staff in the state. Richardson considered Bhajan a “trusted advisor and loyal ally,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Akal contributed $46,000 to Richardson’s political committees. After leaving the governor’s office in 2011, he joined a lobbying firm, APCO Worldwide, where he focuses on transportation issues as the chairman of Global Political Strategies.

APCO is also home to John W. Magaw, former director of the Secret Service and the man who designed and launched the agency when he was undersecretary of the Transportation Department in 2001.

Magaw joined APCO in 2007 as a member of their International Advisory Council.

The lawsuit over the latest TSA contract is not the first time Akal has faced legal trouble. Akal paid the federal government $18 million in 2007 to settle a suit after an investigation found that the company failed to provide adequate training and the necessary amount of security guards at eight Army bases across the country.

Akal settled with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2010 for a “nationwide pattern” of discrimination against its female security guards.

Akal agreed to pay $1.62 million to 26 female guards at U.S. Army bases after the company forced them to take leave and fired them because of pregnancy.

Akal currently patrols the parking lots and vehicles outside Baltimore Washington International Airport and has security contracts for federal courthouses in 40 states. The contract for Kansas City International is the first for which they will provide airport screening.

A TSA spokesperson defended the award when asked for comment on why Akal received the contract despite having “significant weaknesses” in their initial proposal.

“TSA conducted a full and open competition—including a full evaluation of technical and price proposals as well as past performance—and selected the winning vendor based on the best value to the government,” Ross Feinstein, press secretary for the TSA, told the Washington Free Beacon.