Uncertified Guards Protected FDA Headquarters
At least 58 private contract security guards with improper credentials were reassigned from the Food and Drug Administration headquarters in Silver Spring this month after an inspection by the Federal Protective Service, according to two FPS officers familiar with the incident.
The contractor, Chenega Integrated Services Inc., was also fined about $163,000 and ordered to review its security operations at the FDA's Silver Spring campus, according to FPS spokesman Carl Rusnok. The surprise inspection was part of a routine audit of security contractors, Rusnok said.
Discrepancies with the guard certifications originated with the FPS itself, however. An employee issued a blanket waiver to Chenega guards, the two officers familiar with the situation said. Some of the officers, however, had not completed FPS training, which the FPS employee's actions inadvertently brought to light, the two officers said. One of the officers is also a union official representing FPS guards. The two requested anonymity to avoid retribution.
More than two-thirds of the guards have since received training, a Chenega spokesman said, who confirmed that the incident occurred. The remaining guards have been pulled from duty until they are fully trained, the spokesman said. He declined to comment further.
Approximately 6,000 people work at the FDA facility on New Hampshire Avenue near two major shopping plazas and the intersection of Interstate 95 and the Capital Beltway. An FDA spokesman referred all questions to FPS, which handles security at the facility.
During the July 16 inspection of security at FDA headquarters, FPS inspectors identified several paperwork issues for guards at the site, according to Rusnok. Private security guards working for FPS require several certifications, including for CPR, first aid, and to carry a firearm. It is unclear which premature certifications the guards received.
In most cases, guards must display certification cards on their chest at all times. Security firms can request waivers from FPS for guards that have successfully completed certifications but are awaiting the documentation.
FPS employs about 13,000 private security guards to protect roughly 9,000 federal facilities nationwide.
FPS is part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and has faced Congressional pressure to improve operations after a government report this month exposed serious security flaws at 10 major federal buildings. Government Accountability Office investigators smuggled bomb-making materials through security checkpoints, assembled bombs and walked around the buildings undetected.
Chenega Integrated Systems is based in Alexandria and is a subsidiary of Chenega Corporation, one of more than 200 privately held Alaska Native Corporations permitted to operate as disadvantaged small businesses as part of government efforts to encourage Native American participation in federal contracting.
The companies have scored hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years from no-bid contracts primarily from the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. The trend led to a Senate hearing this month that investigated whether the companies have exploited a loophole that grants them advantages in pursuing government contracts.
CORRECTION: The White Oak campus is in Silver Spring. Earlier versions of this report incorrectly stated that FDA headquarters was in Rockville. Apologies for the error.
Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.
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