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GAO: Major Security Flaws at Federal Buildings

By Ed O'Keefe

The police agency in charge of protecting thousands of federal buildings nationwide has failed to keep bomb-making materials out of several high-security facilities in the past year, according to Congressional testimony provided by Senate aides. In the past year, investigators successfully smuggled bomb-making materials into ten high-security federal buildings, constructed bombs and walked around the buildings undetected, exposing weaknesses in security provided by the Federal Protective Service.

More than one million government employees work in 9,000 facilities guarded by FPS around the country, including at least 350,000 in the Washington region. The revelations come as the Obama administration prepares to reorganize the agency in the coming weeks.

Investigators carried liquid explosives and low-yield detonators -- materials investigators note are not normally carried into federal buildings. The GAO said security concerns prevent it from revealing the exact locations or cities of the affected facilities, but that eight of them were government owned, while two were leased. They included offices of a U.S. senator and House member, as well as offices for the departments of Homeland Security, Justice and State, the GAO reported. In one instance, the GAO obtained a building security tape showing an investigator walking through a security checkpoint with bomb making materials.

In the past, security experts have criticized some GAO investigators for publicizing sensational findings or "sting" operations that are not based on intelligence-driven risk assessments. Investigators for the Congressional auditing agency stress however that they followed generally accepted government standards with this round of testing.

"It is simply unacceptable that federal employees working within buildings under FPS’ protection, and the visitors who pass through them, are so utterly exposed to potential attack by terrorists and other enemies," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said in a statement. He chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which will hold a hearing on the findings tomorrow. "We knew that the FPS was a troubled agency, but that GAO could penetrate security at these buildings and make bombs without detection is truly shocking."

“American taxpayers are simply not receiving the security we pay for and should expect the Federal Protective Service to provide," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the panel's ranking Republican.

The agency will review all of its security and training procedures in the next two months and will perform more drills to test for potential vulnerabilities, according to director Gary W. Schenkel's prepared testimony for tomorrow's hearing.

FPS has 1,200 full-time employees and roughly 13,000 contract guards deployed at 2,300 of the 9,000 federal facilities. It uses security cameras and perimeter lighting to help protect the other locations.

The findings revealed today are consistent with other recent investigations into the agency's performance. An April Homeland Security inspector general report faulted its contracting processes, while a 2008 GAO survey found the agency so short-staffed it exposed buildings to risk of terrorist attacks.

FPS has existed as a bureaucratic hot potato in recent years, moving from the General Services Administration to the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. There it became part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which most observers agree was a bad move. The transition also cost the agency hundreds of millions of dollars in annual subsidies, forcing it to reduce staff and depend more on contract guards. Legislation passed last year once again boosted staffing levels.

The DHS appropriations bill under consideration this week moves FPS once again from ICE to the National Protection and Programs Directorate, a collection of divisions tasked with assessing security risks. The White House announced its support for the move today, saying it will provide more details on the reorganization in the coming weeks.

Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.

By Ed O'Keefe  | July 7, 2009; 6:49 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Oversight, Workplace Issues  
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Comments

Another Baracky Hussein Obama failure.

Another, really - really bad day for the DEMOCRUDS

Posted by: hclark1 | July 7, 2009 7:18 PM | Report abuse

BOYCOTT THE POST!

Until Katherine Weymouth resigns. Don't read these articles, when their editorial board is selling out to lobbyists and politicians, do you really think you can trust their news desk either? Give me back a free press!

Posted by: wabewalker | July 7, 2009 7:27 PM | Report abuse

hclark1 --

you truly are an ignoramus ... if you knew anything about this subject you'd know that all the policies in question, as well as the people running FPS and their contractors, were in place and doing exactly the same lousy job during the last 8 yrs. when GW Bush & his inept crew were in charge.

your comment reveals nothing other than that you must a partisan hack -- otherwise how would you think that the entire FPS building security process would go from effective to ineffective in less than 6 months ... WAIT ... don't answer that, I'm sure you see a black helicopter behind the conspiracy you'll come back alleging.

sheesh.

Posted by: fendertweed | July 7, 2009 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Boycott, yes, but Weymouth's departure would still leave in place the guy who hired her, her uncle Donald Graham, not to mention all the neocon droids (Hiatt, Gerson, Kristol) and outdated staffers (Broder, Hoagland, Givhan). No, what the Post needs is a complete makeover, to bring back the paper that pnce upon a time brought down a president. DC already has the loony-moonie Times and neo-nazi Examiner, how about a liberal paper just for variety?

Posted by: hairguy01 | July 7, 2009 7:48 PM | Report abuse

Want to hear about a BIGGER waste of scarce tax dollars?

Try the airline security screenings that negatively impact our nation's economy and efficiency.

Those are a total farce.

P.S.: I'd be far more worried about the cargo and the ports.

Posted by: WillSeattle | July 7, 2009 7:52 PM | Report abuse

hclark1,

The period covered in the investigative report is one year. Assuming the GAO published the report 10 minutes after finishing their investigation, the latest it could have started was July 2008 to July 6th, 2009 I guess Obama was running the country at that time.

I don't expect this reasoning to mean anything to you. The Administration will work with Congress to address the shortcomings. Have a nice day.

Posted by: asja | July 7, 2009 7:53 PM | Report abuse

Should anybody wonder why the U.S. is in the shape that it's in!!! Here we have a senior senator that chairs a committee that has oversight of the Federal Protection Service and he (Sen. Libreman) says "We khew the FPS was a troubled agency". Well if THEY KNEW and THEY DIDN'T TAKE CORRECTION one could say that "THEY" were "DERELICT" in THEIR OVERSIGHT. ONE could also say THEY are OVERPAID and UNDERWORKED. They must spend too much time at the watercooler. Maybe it's because they work "3" day workweeks and leave it to the staff to do the work.

Come on people, the dems blame the repub and vise versa. It's BOTH their FAULTS. Clearly it's not ours. Just what the heck our they doing. Maybe they are spending too much time out of town. They have absolutley NO clue.

Posted by: doughboy96 | July 7, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

This sounds like merely speculation. If you know which federal buildings have been compromised then list the states at least. This is frustrating junk news. News that doesn't have a leg to stand on.

Posted by: TomSawyer65 | July 7, 2009 8:54 PM | Report abuse

TYPICAL OBAMA SLOTH OF SECURITY MATTERS

just imagine the dots Obama is not even seeing, much less connecting, in National Security threats.

OBAMA--Socialism, Sloth, Surrender

Posted by: JaxMax | July 7, 2009 9:13 PM | Report abuse

As someone who works as a contract security guard I have a few comments.

Part of the problem is some of the federal employees themselves. They reject any increase in the security as an invasion of their privacy yet they complain about when they feel it is lax.
I observe them holding the door open for the person behind them when the building is closed without even knowing whether that person is an employee. They complain when the FPS conducts a random screening of the employees and find knifes that the public would not be allowed in with. They feel that because they are a federal employee that means their entire family and friends can come in when the building is closed without being screened.
We can never make a building 100% safe without people willing to make some sacrifice.

The public does not understand that just because they may be a veteran it does not give them a right to carry a weapon into a federal building.

People please the security is there is protect the employees, the public and the guards. The recent incident in a Washington D.C. museum should drive the point home.

There is an old saying "I have seen the enemy and it is us".

Posted by: dangguy | July 7, 2009 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Once again kudos to the GAO for a job well done.

Posted by: whocares666 | July 7, 2009 9:24 PM | Report abuse

Like every other government run operation, its a mess and not doing the job.

But don't worry! When this same sorry bunch of clowns takes over your healthcare, they are sure that they will do a really swell job!

Posted by: StanM1 | July 7, 2009 9:36 PM | Report abuse

hclark1 -- My brother took part in these tests. You are totally wrong!

Posted by: Aldinsgirl | July 7, 2009 11:04 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like a job for TSA, or perhaps the Border Patrol, maybe we need another Commi-sar and we will call it the Federal Building Lack of Adequate Security Czar...I don't know, maybe we should consult Obama because he has all the answers...Perhaps another trillion dollar bailout might fix things, or not.

Posted by: Sadrrocks | July 8, 2009 12:26 AM | Report abuse

This has nothing to do with any particular administration, it's been going on for years.

Building security is a tough business and is often compromised by having extra entrances that aren't personally monitored by guards. Surveillance cameras don't prevent someone from holding the door open for the next person.

A lot depends on how seriously building security is taken. Some buildings simply aren't going to be guarded as thoroughly, nor should they be. I wouldn't worry about guarding, say, Education or HUD nearly as much as CIA. It's a question of priorities and it is unreasonable to expect perfect protection everywhere.

And if you think about it, a bad guy would be more effective bombing contractor offices in the Dulles Corridor than bombing OPM or the Thrift Savings HQ.

Posted by: JeffRandom | July 8, 2009 1:55 AM | Report abuse

I'll add that IMHO the real story is that nobody seems to be conducting penetration testing like this at the office buildings of key contractors. When was the last time Blackwater's HQ security was tested? Or Lockheed's?

Posted by: JeffRandom | July 8, 2009 1:57 AM | Report abuse

Sadly, this is not really news to those of us who pay attention to security. I learned how from the military, as we performed intelligence-gathering work and had to keep it all to ourselves.

Last month I was on Federal jury duty in San Diego. I walked into the courthouse unscreened (!) because I was escorted by the Jury Commissioner, along with 30 other potential jurors. We all walked across the street from the Jury Commissioner's office. Some criminal or crazy could have gotten in line and gone right in. (This Federal courthouse has already suffered one bombing. Search for San Diego Courthouse bomb.)

During a break, I asked one of the guards if he'd be interested in hearing about a security weakness. He perked up, but as soon as I told him my observation, he drooped. See, the guards, all Federal employees, noticed this problem years ago, reported it and got no satisfaction.

Sad, stupid, dangerous, pathetic, irresponsible. (pick any three)

JM

Posted by: JMinSanDiegoCA | July 8, 2009 1:58 AM | Report abuse

What the article didn't address was whether the materials were smuggled in by "visitors" or by vetted employees who have access to the site every day. Those are two very different equations. Such an attack by a a vetted employee would be almost impossible to stop. You just can't take the time and manpower to screen everyone in a detailed fashion. Trust that your vetting process works, do spot checks and screen visitors most thoroghly. Anything that falls through the cracks is just life. That's why they don't let tourists in the White House anymore except for special pre-arranged tours. The Secret Service recognizes that things WILL fall through the cracks.

Posted by: nadie1 | July 8, 2009 6:38 AM | Report abuse

Stand back, everyone, I'm going to try LOGIC!

So after careful examination, it appears anyone could just walk into any building or board any plane and blow it up.

In fact, this very rarely happens.

Logic would indicate that:

1. Security screening, intrusive and expensive as it is, is ineffective.

2. Security screening, intrusive and expensive as it is, is unnecessary.

Nothing can be done to deter someone who truly wishes to commit something outrageous. Anyone who has access to the equipment and explosives necessary to bring down a building with a suitcase probably has a high security clearance already.

The world is and has always been a somewhat dangerous place. Nothing the gov can do can make you perfectly safe. Perhaps the folks who have been whipped into a frenzy of fear by the right wing pundits take some comfort in having their toothpaste confiscated, but it's all just window dressing for the masses. You're at exactly the same risk now as you would have been 50 years ago.... not very much.


Posted by: bruce72 | July 8, 2009 8:29 AM | Report abuse

One more reason to increase gubermint employment. There is no end to this. The only increase in numbers of employees is in the Federal government - covering new stuff to oversee the minions.

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

I am a contract guard but I won't say where. We are hired by a contractor not the Federal Protection Service. That is the root of the problem. They need to get rid of the contracting companies and hire us as direct employees of the FPS. Much of the training is conducted by the managers of the contractors not FPS personnel, and the contracting managers do NOT take the training seriously! I have run the X-ray machine at my location, and have never been trained on it.

The scope of the training does not include day-to-day situations that I might encounter on the job and how to respond to them. Contract managers won't tell you how to respond to different scenarios so they maintain plausible deniability. Most managers can't even tell me what my specific duties are on any given post. They tell us to ask another guard.

You SERIOUSLY want to improve it, get rid of the contractors!

Posted by: CG100 | July 8, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Give me a good reason to protect the Politburo, i.e. Congress

Posted by: thirsty | July 8, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I am a federal government employee working in Washington, D.C. and we have contract guards in our building. They are nice, but I do see a lack of training and I know they would not spot everything and that a determined terrorist could blast his way past them with ease.

I have seen a woman in a full burka walk into the building before. She had an I.D. badge and they let her in. She had what appeared to be a large purse under the burka, but it could have been a backpack bomb. Who is to say the person under the burka was the same one in the photo on the I.D. badge?

What is the policy on the burkas? They don't even tell us in these buildings and I bet the guards don't even know. This is not a comfortable situation for me. I am not so much caring that her religion says she should wear it, but I think she should actually identify herself when she comes through a check point and then put it back on. I don't want her to not have the right to wear it, but I think she and the security people could reach some kind of reasonable accommodation for everyone's satisfaction. Right now, she is really not identifying herself and could be a terrorist.

I read yesterday that a bunch of Taliban escaped from the marines in Afghanistan by putting on burkas and just walking out of a village. So, if everyone is so afraid of having people identify themselves because they will offend them, then we are giving up peace and security and letting the terrorists win.

Clearly, this is the case with the guards in federal buildings.

Posted by: bigdudeisme | July 8, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Yes sirree sir,

This is the bunch that wants to keep our medical information safe and secure. Then, provide you with government run health insurance! I just visited Congressman Hoyer's website (Democrat, from MD), which has a survey on National Health Insurance. The Congressman fully intends to support National Health Insurance... WHILE 66% OF HIS RESPONDENTS ARE OPPOSED! If we keep voting these people in we are the morons they think us to be!

Posted by: Rank1 | July 8, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

I'm a Fed, personally know of two employees seriously injured by attacks from members of the public, but in the course of interviewing and there is no way to really be sure there's no dangerous weapons unless the guards did a strip search! But what was frightening is the part of the story about the baby who went through the x-ray machine in his carrier--

Posted by: BamaGrammame | July 8, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Isn't all this concern about security kind of passe with the election of the new prince of peace to the presidency? We've already eliminated the word, terrorist, from the government and media vocabulary so from whom are we now trying to make ourselves secure?

Posted by: frwilcox | July 8, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

So this is the new transparency, Obama promised! I hope the 69,000,000 voters change their vote in the next election!

Posted by: Rank1 | July 8, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

This is no surprise. I have filed complaints against FPS since 2002 for the abysmal lack of training of the contract rent-a-cops on which they rely, and FPS' documented pattern of reprisals against any who dare complain. There has been very serious incidents at Federal facilities which the FPS prior director Wendell Shingler simply sought to ignore. This includes testimony that weapons routinely we brought into facilities by employees, contract guards refused to provide disability accommodations and mocked those who provided documentation of their condition, and incident reports were fabricated by FPS supervisors to cover up embarrasing failures or abuse. Three FPS officers (Peter Taoy, John Haire, and their supervisor) served 18-24 month jail sentences in 2005 for fabricating an incident report and the Bush Administration retaliated by firing the US Attorney who prosecutred them. US Attorney DiBiagio repeatedly ignored evidence of similar misconduct by Louis Mount, Jerry Bartgis, and others in Maryland. Despite articles in MSNBC worning that private guards were a "weak link in security" for federal buildings and the Arizona Republic calling FPS "an incenstous nest of corruption", FPS' miserable failings were routinely ignored.

Posted by: BushMustGo | July 8, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

OK, and the quality of these "security" workers is expected to be higher than the quality of other federal workers and politicians WHY? Excuse me, people, but one of the reasons that our government costs so much, and delivers so little, is the quantity and quality of the people who works for the many levels of our government! Hello! Has anyone out there ever had to deal with the government? Does anyone watch CSPAN? I'm not sure who the idiots truly are, the government workers and politicians, or the people who keep voting for them and paying them.

Posted by: ericrobinsonmm | July 8, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

The 9/11 'conspiracy debunkers' claim time after time that there were no explosives in the World Trade Center (despite every anchor on tv reporting "secondary explosions" that day) because it "would be impossible to smuggle explosives in such a secure building without it being noticed"... HA! Now it's been done in government owned and government-leased buildings... AFTER 9/11 no less!

Funny how, in writing this article, the mainstream media inadvertently put their foot in their mouth and totally contradicted their previous b.s. claims.

Posted by: clayrains | July 8, 2009 7:24 PM | Report abuse

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