All in the Family
Connecting the dots between an Alaska senator, his kin, and some fat U.S. contracts
TSA officials declined to provide details of the meeting in Murkowski's office. Amy von Walter, a TSA spokeswoman, said: "The senators wanted to ensure Chenega's proposal would be evaluated during the procurement process. We advised that we will follow applicable procurement procedures." She then referred all other questions to Stevens's office, which she said made the original request for TSA contracting and legislative affairs officials to attend the meeting.
$15,000 an acre. The TSA contract sought by Chenega wouldn't be the first awarded to the firm on a sole-source basis by Washington. Hueners estimated that of the 60 or so federal contracts that Chenega is the prime contractor on, only about six have been competitively bid. The Customs and Border Protection contract cited by Hueners is valued at $500 million. Several other firms that had planned to compete were unhappy about the sole-source award to Chenega.
Stevens has been the subject of criticism for his advocacy of these Alaska Native corporations (whose shareholders must be Native Alaskans but whose employees need not be) because he and his family have business relationships with some of them. The Los Angeles Times reported in December that one large Alaska Native corporation, Arctic Slope Regional Corp., pays $6 million a year for a 20-year lease at an office tower in Anchorage that is owned by Stevens and a few other partners. Stevens was also instrumental in Chenega Corp. and Arctic Slope's jointly receiving a $2.2 billion sole-source contract from the National Imagery and Mapping Agency in 2001. The companies used $2 million stuck into the omnibus spending bill to prepare their proposal. According to published reports quoting agency officials, the money had been inserted after agency officials discussed with Stevens their interest in contracting with an Alaska Native firm. More recently, Stevens was criticized for inserting up to $2.5 million into the Defense Department spending bill, with the money earmarked to pay the family of Jacob Adams, the president of Arctic Slope, $15,000 an acre for one 160-acre tract contaminated by the Air Force. Asked by U.S. News of the status of this payment, Stevens's spokeswoman, Courtney Schikora, said that another appraisal had been sought and that the wording of the bill had been changed. Stevens's son, Ben Stevens, is a state senator in Alaska. But he also runs a consulting firm that is employed by Alaska Native firms, such as Cook Inlet Region Inc. That company, which has benefited financially from legislation backed by his father in Washington, paid Ben Stevens $145,854 in 2002, according to financial disclosure filings with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
Sometimes called "Stevens Act" corporations, the Alaska Native firms, as a result of Stevens-sponsored legislation, have an important edge in winning federal contracts because they do not have to bid on them competitively. Chenega, as a result, is now ranked as one of the fastest-growing government contractors in the United States. Its revenues have increased 10-fold since 2001.
Asked if his relationship to both Alaska Native corporations and to those representing them before the Appropriations Committee might be of concern, Stevens said absolutely not. "There is hardly anyone in Alaska that does not intersect with me," he says, "because I am a senior senator in Alaska. One is my brother-in-law; one is my son. What are they supposed to do, drop anything I have business with? I have talked to people that Bill Bittner has brought to my office on various matters. There is nothing illegal about that."
With Edward T. Pound