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GAO: Federal Protective Service 'In Crisis'

By Ed O'Keefe

Government investigators said today it cost roughly $150 and took only four minutes to construct small bombs from materials they carried into high-security federal buildings that house major agencies with national security or law enforcement responsibilities.

Preliminary findings of a Government Accountability Office sting operation, formally revealed today, expose lax security procedures conducted by the Federal Protective Service, the agency tasked with guarding more than one million federal workers at 9,000 federal buildings nationwide. (See video produced by GAO above.)

"In all the years I’ve been hearing GAO reports, that’s about the broadest indictment of an agency of the federal government that I’ve heard and it’s not pleasant to hear it," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said at a Senate hearing on the findings. "We’re obviously going to try to work together with the agency to improve its performance."

Lieberman said his Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee went public with the findings in an effort to quickly address serious concerns about the agency's performance. A full GAO report is expected later this summer, he said.

"I think we would be able to say that FPS is simply an agency in crisis," said Mark L. Goldstein, who led the GAO investigation. As The Eye first reported last night, Goldstein's team carried bomb-making materials into ten high-security federal buildings in the last year. The materials could be purchased at stores or on the Internet and cost roughly $150, Goldstein said. In only one instance did a security guard question a GAO investigator carrying suspicious materials.

"One of the concerns we had is that in a number of the locations, three or four of them, guards were not even looking at the screens that would show materials passing through. If a guard had been looking, they would have seen materials not normally brought into a federal building."

FPS follows Justice Department security guidelines that classify federal facilities into five categories. The fifth and highest level includes the White House and CIA headquarters. Goldstein's team entered Level 4 facilities that house more than 450 federal employees and offices for the departments of Homeland Security, Justice and State. The buildings also house government agencies that permit unscheduled visits, including the Social Security Administration or Internal Revenue Services.

Most of the concerns surrounding FPS center on money and manpower. The agency draws most of its revenue from the tenants of federal buildings, who pay it for the protection on a per-square foot basis. FPS has 1,236 full-time employees and employs approximately 15,000 contract guards. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the Homeland Security committee's ranking Republican, wants the government to better determine the agency's future use of private security guards.

“We taxpayers are simply not receiving the security we paid for and the security we expect FPS to provide," she said.

FPS Director Gary W. Schenkel told lawmakers that “It’s purely a lack of oversight on our part."

“We were fairly distracted in previous years, for a number of reasons, none of them valid at this point -- but we realize that our core mission is to protect federal buildings," Schenkel said. The agency could not properly manage its contracts with private security firms and has suffered from a lack of money and manpower since it was moved to Homeland Security in 2003, he noted.

Today's findings come as no surprise to FPS union leaders, who were some of the first to raise the concerns with GAO.

"I guess if I had to name the route cause, we’re doing security for lack of a better word, on the cheap," said David Wright, president of AFGE Local 918, which represents FPS' security and police officers. His members have little time for actual law enforcement duties since they're also required to perform administrative tasks, including lengthy security assessments of facilities.

"We are law enforcement officers, we respond to incidents, we take control when we have to, but the overwhelming control of our duties are administrative in nature," Wright said.

Lieberman said his committee will introduce bipartisan legislation to reauthorize FPS and account for the GAO findings. He asked Schenkel to provide monthly updates to the panel.

By Ed O'Keefe  | July 8, 2009; 10:53 AM ET
Categories:  Congress, Oversight  
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Does anyone ever wonder if the publication of these kinds of reports to the public is a danger in itself? I hate to say it, it does give someone an idea dont you think?

Posted by: capsfan55 | July 8, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Heads should roll!

An agency intended to protect and defend federal buildings and their employees should have done their own investigation. There is no excuse for being caught with their pants down.

Follow the management food chain...and let the heads begin to roll.

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

Nothing surprises me anymore. Our govt. can't protect themselves, now their running car companies, banks, post offices, etc. They want to dictate what appliances we use and our choice of doctors.

It amazes me with all the security in washington explosives were not detected. Why do people who have problems in their houses dictate how we should run our lives.

Let' give all our reps the clap.

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

I assume the "root cause" is not that they're busy doing editing or spelling checks for people.

"I guess if I had to name the route cause, we’re doing security for lack of a better word, on the cheap," said David Wright, president of AFGE Local 918, which represents FPS' security and police officers. His members have little time for actual law enforcement duties since they're also required to perform administrative tasks, including lengthy security assessments of facilities.

Posted by: blankspace | July 8, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

blaknspace wrote: "I assume the "root cause" is not that they're busy doing editing or spelling checks for people."

Since they didn't put (sic) behind "route," I assume it was the Washington Post, not the agency, that used "route" instead of "root."

Posted by: gasmonkey | July 8, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Remind us PLEASE ... The PURPOSE for the EXISTENCE of the Homeland Security Department IS ? (don't respond, "to expand the scope of goverment intrusion into our lives" . . . we already figured that part out, thank you . . . )

Posted by: rekless1 | July 8, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't surprise me. There is one federal building that I go into that when the metal detector goes off, they wand me but the wand never goes below the waist. I could have guns in ankle holsters and they would never know.

Posted by: ahashburn | July 8, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't surprise me at all. I work in a federal building, and all I have to do is wave my smart ID card at the scanner, and the gates open to let me in. The guard does look at the picture on my ID, but since I don't go through a metal detector, I could be carrying a revolver in my backpack and nobody would know.

Posted by: gilbertbp | July 8, 2009 6:03 PM | Report abuse

"You are either with us or with the

courtesy 'NufffRespect'

In an address to the US Congress on Thursday, President George W. Bush told other nations that "you are either with us or with the terrorists".

In his 45 minutes speech interrupted more than twenty times with standing ovations, President Bush also sent an ultimatum to the Afghan Taliban, warning them either they arrest and extradite Osama Bin Laden, the prime suspect in the devastating 11 September terrorist operations in New York and in Washington to the American justice or they would face the same fate as he would soon.

Posted by: coiaorguk | July 8, 2009 6:36 PM | Report abuse


Well another Bush UN-Managed mess discovered.

President Obama has a huge job to get the government back into a professional order.

Fei Hu

Posted by: Fei_Hu | July 8, 2009 6:41 PM | Report abuse


just imagine all the dots Obama is too lazy to see, let alone connect.

Obama--Endangering National Security through Neglect

Posted by: JaxMax | July 8, 2009 6:59 PM | Report abuse

"name the route cause" Uh, that should be "root cause" Not sure whether to blame the Post's writers/editors or the person being quoted, but when I read things like that, and I see these dozens of times a day in the Post and the NYTimes, I have to wonder how badly our education system really is. Is grammar and spelling that hard to teach?

Posted by: johnnycomelately1 | July 8, 2009 6:59 PM | Report abuse

2 points to the person who can point out the hidden grammar mistake in my missive.

Posted by: johnnycomelately1 | July 8, 2009 7:01 PM | Report abuse

There are certain types of public safety jobs in which personnel need to be rotated frequently in their duties to other jobs. In the Rodney King incident of 1992, the officer swinging the club had been in squad cars for 11 straight years. In these security surveillance cases, personnel should be on the job for several weeks at a time, and rotated to other jobs, then rotated back for several more weeks. That way, they will stay alert during the time they are assigned. The other issue is pay. How would you like to be paid about $10 an hour after taxes, and how attentive to your duties to you think you would be if you were? These issues can be fixed, but only if Congress is willing to appropriate money instead of just taking shots at the agencies trying to do the best they can with limited budgets.

Posted by: ripvanwinkleincollege | July 8, 2009 7:04 PM | Report abuse

My most recent work for the Federal Government was at FDA and it was from 2000 to 2006. During that time I observed very good levels of security and I say that as a person with Counterintelligence and security experience.

However the system had one giant hole. Just about anything that would fit in a coffee or burger bag could be handed in around the security system with no examination at all. I personally pointed that out on many occasions and there was never any reasoned response.

Want to take a gun in? Just put it in a coffee bag and pass it around security. Easy.

I do not think the x rays will harm food, but if people were concerned about that they could at least look in the bags.

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

To Johnnycomelately:
How badly our education system really is!!
Apparently not so good where you attended!

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

A little known fact: did you know that the Chinese purposely makes a mistake in their communications because nobody is perfect. Or maybe you are doing just what Holder, Obama and putting more emphasis on a minor mistake to forget about the major problems, as realizing when reading a recent headline "Knowing what mistakes were made in the past not make those same mistakes in the future" instead of fixing those past problems to just "do the right thing" instead of learning what you did wrong before to correct to know how to make sure they don't happen again but know how to "handle" them as a get around? As since 2002 a federal WTC responder, FPS Police Officer, my husband, Vietnam Veteran, 25+ years of federal civil service to die without FPS honoring, respecting, compensating, thanking, acknowledging and being held responsible.

If only a gramatical mistake was the only problem, I would not be going through a politically incorrect system with all the words spelled correctly, to just do what is right instead of just not doing at all for their own employees but to compensate $4.2 million to illegal immigrant families for their loved ones WTC related deaths in just wrong, either way you spell it, write it, read it or say it as actions speak louder than words even when they are not spelled correctly; is it misspell or mispell? I am not hating just hate negativity as problems make perfection and rather be positive on position as a practicing perfectionist or perfectionist practicing pessimism? As the spell check does not correct word correctness just correct spelling as an example birch is spelled correctly and if the "r" was a "t" it would still be a correct spelled word as a female dog is a word in the dictionary but the difference of "r" and "t" can get a lot more heat than root vs route? Smile it is all good when taken with a positive not negative negation?

FPS WTC federal responder widow missing her friend, husband and fallen officer to promise never to forget 9/11/2001 by those who forget what they do not want to remember. Sad to say so please remember those who have been forgotten heroes as what were you doing on 9/11/2001?

God Bless America and our veterans, Katrina victims, WTC responders/survivors fallen officer widows, etc.

Posted by: ranlin592 | July 10, 2009 9:37 PM | Report abuse

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