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Editorial: Time to overhaul FPS

Sep. 16, 2012 - 03:13PM   |  
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Auditors have been telling lawmakers for years that the agency responsible for securing federal facilities — the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service (FPS) — is inept, under-resourced and lacking the confidence of the federal agencies they protect.

In fact, Congress is being dangerously neglectful by repeatedly failing to fix well-known chronic problems at FPS.

The latest in a regular series of alarm bells about FPS’ failings came last week in a new report by the Government Accountability Office. GAO reported that FPS:

• Is incapable of properly conducting risk assessments at federal facilities.

• Has a large backlog of federal facilities that have awaited risk assessments for years. The backlog likely is in the thousands, though FPS lacks the data to say exactly how big it is.

• Lacks the tools to adequately oversee its 12,500 contract guards. FPS, for example, cannot verify whether all contract guards are properly trained and certified, nor can the agency adequately inspect their work and performance.

• Increasingly lacks the confidence of the agencies it is supposed to protect. Even though FPS collected $236 million in security fees from agencies last year, numerous agencies are spending their own funds on independent risk assessments because they are unhappy with FPS’ performance. Those agencies include the IRS, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers and the General Services Administration.

Previous GAO reports found even more egregious failings at FPS, such as guards asleep at their posts or untrained and uncertified for their work, and an inability to prevent undercover auditors from getting bomb components into high-value federal facilities.

Meanwhile, federal facilities continue to be priority targets for those who wish to do harm. Just since 2009, there has been an attempted though unsuccessful bombing of the Paul Findley Federal Building in Springfield, Ill.; an airplane attack on an IRS office building in Austin, Texas, that killed the pilot and an IRS manager and injured 13; a foiled plot by four right-wing militants in Georgia to attack federal buildings; and an attempted but unsuccessful bombing of the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building in Detroit. In the Detroit case, an FPS contract security guard at the building unknowingly brought the bomb — hidden in a tool bag — inside the building without screening it. It sat for three weeks in the building’s lost-and-found locker before it was screened and found to contain explosives. It was later destroyed by the FBI.

Such incidents clearly make federal employees nervous — but Congress has inexplicably failed to take FPS’ string of failures seriously.

As the country marks the 11th anniversary of 9/11 and watches aghast as U.S. facilities abroad come under repeated attacks, lawmakers must take seriously the security of our federal employees.

FPS is a fundamentally broken agency. It must be torn down and rebuilt with adequate resources, a robust staff of federal professionals whose training and certifications are not in question, effective systems to assess and mitigate risks, and the strong backing of lawmakers.

Yes, budgets are under intense pressure — but the security of our federal facilities and the countless Americans they serve must surely be a higher priority than it is now.

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