How Safe are Security Standards in Federal Buildings?

The Federal Protective Service, (FPS), a division of the United States Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for the law enforcement and facility security for nearly 9,000 federally owned and leased buildings, courthouses, properties, and other federal assets. According to officials, the FPS collects $1.3 billion in user fees a year for this service.  But many of these agencies, including Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, are assessing their own security needs out of concern that the FPS is providing a service not up to the standards developed by the Interagency Security Committee (ISC).

The FPS employs about 1,225 federal personnel, most of them serving as law enforcement security officers (LESO), not nearly enough to physically oversee all the facilities that are within each officer’s region. And each officer is responsible for the training and certification, the risk assessment and oversight, and the patrolling and law enforcement of every facility. This shortage means that most buildings are left in the care of contract security guards, working by themselves.

There are there are approximately 13,000 contract guards from almost forty different private companies. The cost of these private contract guards will cost FPS $796 million this year. But the shortage of FPS officers and not enough oversight over the contract guards have produced numerous alarming incidents.

In 2009, investigative teams from Government Accountability Office (GAO) were able to get into ten high-level security buildings with the components for an improvised explosive device (IED). Once inside they were actually able to assemble the IEDs and freely walk around the facilities.

In February 2011, a contract guard found a bag at the McNamara Federal Building in Detroit. This building houses the FBI, the IRS and a U.S. senator’s office. Instead of screening the bag, the guard put in it the lost and found. Three weeks later, another guard decided to check the bag out through an x-ray machine. Inside the bag was a metal box with wires and other electrical components. The Detroit Police Department bomb squad was called in and detonated the material, setting off a secondary explosion and revealing a timer and other evidence confirming the item was a bomb. A suspect who had mental problems and a grudge against the FBI was later arrested.

Other reports of lax security include weapons passing through lobbies undetected, government property stolen and even one report of a dead body that went unnoticed by contract security for months. Critics say part of the problem is that the training standards and instruction are not consistent across the board. An example is the training of contract guards on the use of X-ray scanner and magnetometers, currently the responsibility of the LESOs. But too many times, that training isn’t provided because of the LESO shortage.

Professional Security Officer is a DVD-based training series for those seeking credentialing as a security officer. The training may be provided prior to initial posting, or may be part of an ongoing training program. This program has a wide application for contract and staff security officers, both armed and unarmed. To learn more, read here. . .

 

Oklahoma bombing

The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, site of the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, which killed 168 people.

 

 

 

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