Thursday, March 24, 2011

Detroit Bomb Scare

The news, and this blog, have been flooded with stories about Libya, the Middle East or the Japanese nuclear disaster. Now comes this story out of Detroit:

"DETROIT (Reuters) – A package found by a security guard at a federal office building in Detroit sat three weeks before someone thought to screen it and found it was a bomb, an official who represents unionized guards said on Wednesday.

A private contract guard, since suspended, apparently found the package outside in late February, said David Wright, president of the union that represents Federal Protective Service guards but not contract guards.

The building in downtown Detroit houses offices for the FBI, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the Social Security Administration and others."

Attracted by jobs in the auto industry during the 1950s and 1960s, Detroit has one of the largest populations of Muslims in the United States. Most of those jobs are now gone but as recent commercials try to show, Detroit is not done and out. The incident with the package could certainly be related to events occurring throughout the Middle East.

The story also illustrates shortfalls with outsourcing services (especially security). As the federal government and many states try to get their budgets under control, it is attractive to outsource services to save money. On paper, outsourcing makes sense as contracting with a vendor eliminates overhead and staffing costs that the government would normally have to pay for. The problem becomes now the contractor is responsible for vetting the employees. This may or may not be a robust process depending on the contractor or who they have doing the employee screening.

Working for contractors can seem lucrative, especially with the ones that provide services for the US government overseas (Haliburton and its subsidiary KBR, DynCorps, Bechtel, Xe). However, the contracts often only cover salaries, no benefits such as insurance to cover work related injuries or death.

Contracts such as the one covering the security at the Detroit federal building, don't pay that well and offer no benefits. These type of contracts aren't attractive to employees with industry certifications and credentials as they know what they should be making. Employees without those credentials, or simply people looking for a job, then become the hiring pool.

Even when the lower paying contracts do hire people with the appropriate training and credentials, they get fed up with the low pay and lack of benefits.

The US is facing increasing risks at the same time of diminishing budgets. If this danger is not recognized and outsourcing continues to be used, one of these attempts will be successful.

Related to Detroit, Fox News just posted this story about Abdulmuttalab (the Underwear Bomber) and he chose Detroit as his destination:

"When an admitted Al Qaeda operative planned his itinerary for a Christmas 2009 airline bombing, he considered launching the strike in the skies above Houston or Chicago, The Associated Press has learned. But tickets were too expensive, so he refocused the mission on a cheaper destination: Detroit."

Fox News story

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