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Uncertified Guards Protected FDA Headquarters

By Ed O'Keefe

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.

By Ed O'Keefe  | July 28, 2009; 6:04 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Workplace Issues  
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Comments

it's really sad. The Alaskan Native Corporations were
created to reduce poverty in alaska, and what do they
do? Create subsidiaries in Alexandria, to bleed to
death the 8(a) program.

if 1 percent of this money makes it to the tribe i would be surprised

Posted by: patb | July 28, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

What is sad is the way these guards treat the FDAers. They grab at the employee badges, confiscate forks, require plants to go through x-ray machines, and inspect lunch boxes. The Murrow building in Oklahoma was not brought down by a Federal employee or a fork for that matter. The guards are in place to protect, not inspect, the employees there. One wonders what they will do to the industry representatives when they come for meetings.

Posted by: otis1 | July 28, 2009 7:58 PM | Report abuse

Another Fed Gov success story.

Posted by: Tupac_Goldstein | July 28, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

FedGoc? Aren't contractors the ones who say "Good enough for government work."

Posted by: otis1 | July 28, 2009 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Note to otis1--in nearly 40 years around the government, the only people I have ever heard say the [now dated] "good enough for government work" are government employees, with a very few exceptions. That self-loathing is where it started and where it remains, except when some former civil servants may enter the ranks of contractors.

Posted by: axolotl | July 28, 2009 9:00 PM | Report abuse

The guards at FDA disrespect the employees all the time. It's a common occurrence to see someone lose their temper because of the daily harassment imposed by the guards. I'm not surprised at all that many have had no training. It shows in the way they do their job. There are some very good guards but unfortunately there are many who use their job to harass and intimidate.

Posted by: Jim31 | July 28, 2009 9:07 PM | Report abuse

FDA headquarters is in Silver Spring, not Rockville.

Posted by: jondnorton | July 28, 2009 9:10 PM | Report abuse

If the HQ are in SS, could it be the commenters have had a dream experience, the government environment being what it is, and all, ya know>?

Posted by: axolotl | July 28, 2009 9:26 PM | Report abuse

Actually Axolotl, I was a gov't contractor for many years and that is where I first heard that phrase and NOT from the gov't employees. It is still used amongst my friends who are currently in the gov't consulting industry.

As for the story, it is not surprising. The guards at FDA HQ treat the employees with an incredible amount disrespect. Sad to say that I've see it occur first hand on a consistent basis.

Posted by: bubbles3 | July 28, 2009 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Rockville?

Silver Spring?

How about White Oak.

But I did work at Shady Grove and Rockville and saw the best way to get anything into the building. Put it in a coffee of food package and pass it around the x ray machine. They never look at it.

But that is employee pressure and the guards should resist it.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | July 28, 2009 10:09 PM | Report abuse

It's time to put an end to no bid contracts. So much of that was done during the Bush administration. The taxpayers have not gotten a good return for their money and friends of the politician and special interest groups have made huge windfall profits. It's time for these contracts to be put out for competitive bid and all contractors should be supervised to be sure they are providing the services they are being paid to perform

Posted by: OhMy | July 29, 2009 6:04 AM | Report abuse

With all due respect GaryEMasters, the FDA employees have already been screened by the FBI to work there. Visitors have not. So the employees should be able to bring in coffee and a bagel without having it irradiated every day of their work lives. This is procedure at SSA, EPA, NIH, CDC, and other Federal facilities. Why is FDA HQ, yes it is now at White Oak, different? Why are the guards harrassing the FDAers? I have seen them make attractive women remove their jackets and blazers (in summer), grab at their badges hanging around their necks, laughing the entire time so they can ogle them.

Posted by: otis1 | July 29, 2009 7:20 AM | Report abuse

In response to otis1:
1. FDA employees are not screened by the FBI. Employees and fingerprints are run through the FBI databases and the results are provided to the agency for adjudication. This is the standard practice for virtually all executive agencies.
2. The xray dose received by an article during inspection is fraction of the dose one receives flying at 30000 feet. Your food is not being irradiated. You always have the option of requesting manual inspection of your stuff.
3. There are many reasons for a guard to request removal of a jacket, usually so it can pass through the xray.
4. Suspected sexual harassment should be immediately reported to your agency's security administration.
5. Grabbing badges is not acceptable conduct, and should be reported to your agency's security administration. However, many agencies use a "touch badge" policy to help ensure that the guards do a thorough visual check of the badge.
6. None of these measures are intended to harass, or needlessly inconvenience employees, and the guards are following orders and enforcing agency policy, and are often criticized, derided and treated disrespectfully by employees who disagree with the policies. If you have an issue with a security policy, you need to raise your concern with your agency's security administration rather than complain to the guards. The guards do not have any authority to change policy.
7. The training issue is a serious one and goes to poor contract management on the part of the government. White Oak is a large contract and requires at least one FTE dedicated to handling it. I'm sure that is not the case because FPS is strapped for resources, and FDA does not have direct authority over the contract.

Posted by: da_Gman | July 29, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

These employees are committed to public health and safety. We are speaking about physicians, engineers, researchers, etc. All highly educated and all there to ensure the safety of the nation's drugs, devices, foods, vaccines, the blood supply, and veterinary medicines.

There is no logic to what these guards are doing to these people and it is not defensible.

1 - guards at WO have required women remove jackets AFTER passing the magnetometer
2- grab at their badges, as in not following the "touch" procedure
3- rifle through a lunch AFTER passing the magnetometer
4- the harassment has been reported, this is a pattern going on for years since the employeed began arriving there.

Posted by: otis1 | July 29, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

What I find sad are all the inflammatory remarks that are targeting a whole population. It may be true that there are a handful of rogue guards, but the vast majority are very respectful.

You must remember that you are on federal property, and the guards have to follow rules. If you beep when passing through the magnetometer, they are obligated to ensure that you are not carrying anything harmful. So the whining about having to actually follow the rules needs to stop.

I agree with da_Gman, and implore the dissenters to take heed to his advice. Instead of using this portal to complain, do the right thing and report any obvious abuse.

Me thinks that those that are speaking in hyperbole regarding the guard's behavior would be the same ones to complain if there weren't any security standards. And if you are really that upset, find another place to work. But I bet you probably won't find one record of an employee quitting because a guard touched his lunch.

Posted by: what_ev | July 29, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Response to otis1:
In my experience, most, if not all federal employees are dedicated, hard working and committed to the mission of their agency. The fact that the workforce is well educated is not a mitigator of security risk, and while the background check performed on employees helps mitigate risk, it is not all inclusive and provides only a snapshot of a certain point in time. I suspect your statement that FDA employees are highly educated belies the true nature of your objection: is is offensive to you to be inspected by individuals who are presumably less educated than yourself. You perceive that your importance is such that you should not be subjected security measures designed to protect federal personnel and property. I expect you would feel differently after an incident involving workplace violence.
I have no illusions about security guards: they can be heavy handed and they do make mistakes. More often, they respond to incidents and prevent potentially serious incidents, and they do it with great professionalism, as evidence by the guard recently killed at the Holocaust Museum.
It sounds like you have some real misconduct issues. Guard misconduct and abuse of power should not be tolerated and must be reported to the agency security administration. If you are not getting satisfaction from your security administration, elevate your complaint. One word of advice is to have specific details of the incident in your report, and document the facts. It is difficult to resolve a complaint if the facts are reduced to hearsay, or "The guard just wasn't nice."

Posted by: da_Gman | July 29, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

I feel the need to come forth since what_ev and da_Gman seem to think that Otis1 has issues with the guards and authority and whatever. Unless you are going into the same building with the same guard staff that Otis1 is going into, which I am, you really have no idea that everything posted about the guards behaviors is the black and white truth. I was asked to remove my blazer AFTER walking through the machine WITHOUT it beeping and then they tell me to 'turn around' all the while smiling and giggling. I have had my badge grabbed, not touched, but GRABBED from my CHEST. I have endured the guards going through my bags, including my lunch pail, when they did not see a single thing on the x-ray machine and when I asked why, they simply said it was procedure to open up ALL bags when it is NOT. You say it's just a rotten few? Well, they rotate the guards through the entrance that I use and I have had issues EACH and EVERY time that I walk through. And yes, a number of us have complained and are waiting to see if anything changes. So please, in the future, feel free to NOT suggest that someone get another job or infer that someone has issues with elitism when they are coming to work that involves promoting and protecting the public health of America each and every day and all they want to do is their job.

Posted by: bubbles3 | July 29, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Ive worked at the FDA White Oak campus since 2005 and have never had a problem with a single security guard. They have always been at the very least proffessional and usually greet me with a smile and a good morning. And its not just the same group of guards either. Like I said Ive worked here since 2005 and have no doubt encountered hundreds of different guards over the years. The security measures are already pretty laid back at the White Oak campus if you all havent noticed. If the FPS had it their way we would all be taking off our shoes to put through the xray machine. I think we should all just count our blessings. Not to mention that security SHOULD be thorough when inspecting people coming into the building, regardless of whether they are an employee or a visitor. If you can remember back to your FDA security training they emphasize the fact that the greatest threat comes from within the FDA, the employees themselves. I have a feeling that anyone who claims to be experiencing any extra scrutiny has probably complained about security measures in the past and has now made themselves a target. Why dont you tell us all exactly which entrance it is that you come in cause Ill come in that way every day for a month and I bet I wont have a single problem.

Posted by: mjw0912 | July 29, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

mjw0912 - Are you an attractive young female? If not, then you won't experience a single problem. It is the newest building that we are experiencing these issues and its just a subset of employees that are experiencing them. If you are male, no problem. If you are an older woman, no problem. If you are remotely attractive in any way, then there is a problem. No, we have never complained before because this is a new building with new security guards. But thanks for trying to explain what has been happening to us in the last few weeks. We are not looking for a fight, rather we are upset that this would happen at the new building after we never had a single issue with security at our old building.

Posted by: bubbles3 | July 29, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

bubbles3,
As I said, guards do make mistakes. The conduct you describe is at best unacceptable and at worst sexual harassment. I urge you to contact FDA security management and make a formal report. If they are not responsive, please go to the IG. Please don't just let it go, it is too important.

Posted by: da_Gman | July 30, 2009 3:23 AM | Report abuse

Well as da_Gman said... if you honestly believe that you were violated in any way then by all means you should take whatever action necessary to see that someone is held responsible. I just dont want to see the security staff as a whole get a bad rep because of the actions of a few individuals.

Posted by: mjw0912 | July 30, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

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