Project Shield Vendor Bills $787k, Delivers Zilch

Synch Solutions hasn't filed a single quality assurance report gauging effectiveness of Homeland Security program

A consulting company with a political pedigree has been paid more than $787,000 by Cook County for work in which not a single written report has been delivered, an NBC Chicago / Chicago Sun-Times investigation has discovered.

Synch Solutions was commissioned to file reports gauging the effectiveness of Project Shield, a Homeland Security program to keep citizens safe during times of disaster. But in the 21-months Synch Solutions has had the contract, the company has failed to submit the required progress reports, according to a County official.

"Even by Cook County standards this is an outrageous abuse," said Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool when told the results of the investigation. "The taxpayers are not getting what they deserve for their money."

Born out of 9/11 and paid for with $43 million worth of Homeland Security funds, Project Shield, in part, places video cameras in police cars and communities. The cameras are supposed to feed back live video to a central command, which would then assist officers dispatched to a disaster area.

Synch Solutions was tasked with making sure Project Shield works and the money is being spent properly in a March 2008 contract with specific guidelines:

"The Contractor shall submit weekly progress reports of its activities and the Technical Contractor’s activities to the CIO," the contract reads.

"These reports shall be submitted in electronic format and shall detail information (including)... field inspections," it continues.

But the County's Chief Information Officer, Antonio Hylton, responding to a Freedom of Information Act request, said through a spokesman that all the quality assurance reports have been submitted by "word of mouth."

That, said Claypool, is unacceptable.

"I don’t see how you can orally report on something this complex," said Claypool. "To pay someone almost a million dollars and only get oral reports," he said, "is really scandalous."

"Not only should the reports be written," said Commissioner Bridget Gainer, "they should be posted on the Internet."

NBC Chicago and the Sun-Times reported in October that Project Shield is 36 percent over budget, with a current price tag of $43 million, including the $787,470 paid to Synch-Solutions, as of August 2009.

"I think the board needs to basically put someone on the hotseat here and make them accountable and respond," said Claypool. "Where are these reports? They are required under the contract, where are they? And what does that say about the overall project, which everyone knows is troubled."

Synch Solutions' CEO is John Sterling, the step-son of former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, Jr.

Hylton and Sterling have not responded to requests for interviews.

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