It may have looked bad when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) awarded a $50 million contract to buy new uniforms for TSA agents less than a week before the March 1 budget sequestration began, but just how bad was it, really?
Other than being very poorly timed, not that bad. The contract, awarded on Feb. 22, to VF Imagewear Inc. of Nashville, Tennessee, is not for newly-designed, more expensive uniforms, but to continue the supply of uniforms constantly required by the TSA.
The Feb. 22 contract is in fact a one-year extension of a contract for TSA uniforms first awarded to VF Imagewear in 2003.
The contract does not include design services, which are typically obtained through separate contracts. TSA uniforms were last re-designed in 2008.
According to the bid's "Notice of Intent" issued Dec. 12, 2012, the contract is only for "acquisition of TSA uniform items."
But those facts did not stop some people from jumping to some conclusions about the contract. "The uniform contract for the TSA workers, $50 million. Divided by the number of TSA employees, it does work out to about a thousand dollars per employee per uniform," said Rush Limbaugh said on his March 6, radio show.
However, the contract provides each of the approximately 50,000 TSA security officers with three full sets of uniforms, which they pay for through an annual TSA-provided uniform allowance.
According to the TSA's Uniformed Employees Appearance and Responsibilities memo, the standard TSA uniform package provided under the contract consisting of 3 trousers, 3 short sleeve shirts, 3 long sleeve shirts, 2 neckties, 1 sweater vest, 1 team jacket, 2 pairs of shoulder boards, 1 belt, 3 pairs of socks, and 1 nametag.
And the $50 million is not all for uniforms. The contract also requires VF Imagewear to create and maintain a secured, web-based system through which authorized TSA officers can order uniforms.
Finally, as with all government contracts, $50 million is the maximum amount that can be paid to VF Imagewear during the term of the contract, not the actual amount that will be spent.
The government's need for new uniforms, both military and law enforcement, is massive and ongoing. Besides the military and TSA, a few other agencies needing uniforms are, Customs and Border Patrol, Parks and Wildlife, FBI, Drug Enforcement, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and Capitol Police.
To meet its massive and ongoing need for uniforms, the government both saves money and stimulates the economy by contracting with private sector clothing makers.
The government contracting process provides opportunities for millions of U.S. small businesses, including minority- and women-owned businesses, as well as businesses owned by veterans and service-disabled veterans.
The really sad thing about this is that years of actual excessive and abusive spending have brought Americans to expect the worst of government, even when it's not that bad.