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What's Next for Federal Building Security?

By Ed O'Keefe

Federal Protective Service vehicles parked outside a Virginia federal courthouse in 2006. (Photo by AP)

The release last week of a jaw-dropping report on security at federal buildings has prompted little public comment from federal authorities, but congressional sources and other observers expect plenty of activity in the coming months to address concerns about the Federal Protective Service.

As last week's GAO findings revealed, government investigators successfully entered 10 high-security federal buildings with bomb-making materials, and they proceeded to assemble bombs in the building's restrooms, undetected by the building's security guards. Lawmakers, observers and rank-and-file employees called it but one example of an agency in desperate need of a makeover, complete with more money, manpower and oversight.

By the end of July, lawmakers expect to see draft legislation that proposes a "fairly significant" modernization of FPS, according to congressional aides. The bill is likely to give Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano new marching orders on how to reshape the agency. As of this writing, however, it is unclear whether the bill will propose federalizing all or some of the approximately 13,000 private security contractors employed by FPS.

Conversations in recent days with private guards and union leaders for the 1,200 FPS employees indicate that federalization may be the only way to solve the agency's woes. They suggest that government-issued training standards, security procedures and pay scales would boost guard morale and remove the stigma of any agency relegated to second-class status.

FPS guards already feel ignored or misunderstood under their current arrangement as part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to David Wright, president of AFGE Local 918, the union that represents FPS employees. He said the government should never have placed FPS under ICE when the Bush administration created the Homeland Security department earlier this decade.

"Really, we’re okay with our counterparts at ICE," Wright said. "It’s the management, the upper-level management of ICE that is purely the immigration and customs types," with no focus on building security, he said.

In addition to any modernization or reorganization, FPS expects to deploy a new computerized tracking and dispatch system later this year. Even if operational by December, the system may need up to a year before it becomes fully operational, according to observers.

The agency is also competing with ICE, Customs and Border Protection and other agencies to recruit qualified employees. Last week's news will certainly hamper recruitment efforts. Guards are also seeking authority to carry firearms 24 hours a day since most must check in weapons before heading off-site.

No matter what the legislation eventually includes, it is expected to have four key co-sponsors: Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) -- all members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and a widely respected bipartisan quartet capable of shepherding any sort of bill through the Senate.

The Eye has heard from concerned federal employees, private security guards working for FPS and others on this matter. If YOU have concerns, leave your thoughts in the comments section below or submit your tips, questions and comments here.

By Ed O'Keefe  | July 13, 2009; 3:57 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Workplace Issues  
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FPS guards already feel ignored or misunderstood

I dunno. Seems to me that's a poor reason not to do a job right. There seems to be a lack of pride in a job well done, these days. I'm certain FPS could use modernization and technology to help them detect threats better, but what about good old-fashioned "making the rounds" and reporting what you observe?

It's highly unusual for terrorists to walk into a facility with triangle warning signs of "explosives" on their backpacks. Sheesh!

Posted by: PScaz | July 14, 2009 6:35 AM | Report abuse

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