WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., and Oversight of Government Management Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, have introduced legislation to reform and modernize the Federal Protective Service (FPS) to set it on course to fulfill its mission of protecting 9,000 federal buildings around the country.
Lieberman, Collins, Akaka, and retired Senator George Voinovich, R-Ohio, asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the FPS in 2007, and GAO uncovered a series of problems at the troubled agency.
The Supporting Employee Competency and Updating Readiness Enhancements for Facilities Act of 2011 (SECURE Facilities Act), S. 772 – similar to the bill introduced in the 1111th Congress – addresses these problems by stabilizing the financial management of FPS, increasing the guard workforce, improving training, and requiring regular assessments of guard capabilities.
“Poor management, serious budget shortfalls, and operational challenges have diminished FPS’ effectiveness and undermined public trust in the agency,” Lieberman said. “FPS guards were famously caught sleeping on the job, putting an infant in its carrier through an X-ray machine, and failing to detect bomb-making materials on investigators who passed through security. The agency must be turned around, which is why we are introducing this legislation to strengthen its management, provide it with the necessary resources to fulfill its mission, and help it function at a higher level.”
Collins said: “We must remain vigilant about the threats we face. Unfortunately, the evidence indicates there are significant security problems at federal buildings where thousands of employees serve thousands more of our citizens every work day. The government has an obligation to protect our nation’s security, and our federal buildings are targets for violence. This legislation would provide FPS with stronger authority to improve security at our federal buildings.”
Akaka said: “I am pleased that we reintroduced this bipartisan bill to strengthen the Federal Protective Service. This bill gives FPS the tools it needs to protect the thousands of Americans who enter our federal buildings each day.”
The Senators, along with retired Senator George Voinovich, R-Ohio, asked GAO to undertake a comprehensive review of the FPS, leading to eight reports to Congress between 2004 and 2010. GAO concluded that contract guards lacked adequate training, FPS oversight of the guards was poor, and many of the standards and manuals guiding guard behavior were outdated.
GAO investigators were able to slip bomb-making materials through security at several high security buildings, assemble a bomb in a public restroom, and wander the halls – all without detection. Elsewhere a contract guard was found to be asleep at his station, while another allowed an infant in a carrier to go through an x-ray machine.
The SECURE Facilities Act addresses these shortcomings and incorporates many of GAO’s recommendations. Under the Act, FPS would be authorized for the first time, as would the interagency body responsible for establishing security standards for all federal facilities.
The bill addresses four major challenges:
- Ensuring that FPS has sufficient personnel to carry out its mission. The legislation would require the FPS hire almost 150 additional full time employees. It also would require FPS to employ no fewer than 1,200 full time employees at any point.
- Tackling deficiencies of the contract guard program. The bill would require FPS to maintain testing programs to assess guard training and the security of federal facilities, increase the training provided to guards, and establish procedures for retraining or terminating ineffective guards.
- Preparing FPS to address the threat of explosives. The bill would require DHS to establish performance-based standards for checkpoint detection technologies for explosives and other threats at federal facilities. It also would increase the number of canine teams the agency could deploy and allow FPS officers to carry firearms off duty, as most other federal law enforcement officers may, allowing them to respond to incidents more quickly.
- Balancing public access and security. Though the emphasis remains on security, the bill would support avenues of appeal if a building tenant believes security measures unduly hinder public access.