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'Borrowed time' for federal building security?

By Ed O'Keefe

Union officials said Tuesday that the government agency responsible for protecting more than 9,000 federal facilities is poorly funded, understaffed and on “borrowed time” as it works to protect government installations amid a recent spate of attacks targeted at federal agencies.

But Federal Protective Service Director Gary Schenkel said his agency has taken several steps to address security gaps first exposed in a government audit published last year. Government Accountability Office investigators smuggled bomb-making materials into 10 major federal buildings across the country while photos and video showed private contract guards asleep at their posts and a young child passing through an X-ray machine in a baby carrier.

In response, FPS has developed new training on X-ray machines and magnetometers for the almost 15,000 private security contract guards it employs, Schenkel said. The agency's officers have also reviewed the certifications of private contract guards and increased spot inspections of guard posts, he said.

Buildings protected by FPS house approximately 1.5 million federal workers and more than 500,000 visitors each day, according to the agency. FPS made about 1,600 arrests, conducted more than 1,100 criminal investigations and confiscated more than 661,000 prohibited items at security checkpoints in fiscal 2009. Those prohibited items included brass knuckles, knives and some firearms, Schenkel said.

Despite those efforts, the agency remains woefully underfunded and provides inconsistent levels of security across the country, said National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen M. Kelley. Her union represents Internal Revenue Service employees, including those working in an Austin office building last month when it was hit by a small plane.

“NTEU members have consistently voiced concern over the inconsistency of safety and security measures at IRS facilities across the country,” Kelley said in her testimony. Employees are especially concerned about lax security at taxpayer assistance centers open to the public, she said.

David L. Wright, president of the union representing FPS officers, said the agency's insufficient funding has left employees uncertain of their job security, private guards routinely unsupervised and managers free to operate as they please.

“I believe we are on borrowed time when it comes to this very large gap in our national homeland security safety net, and that time is running out,” Wright told lawmakers.

Members of the House subcommittee on the federal workforce said they were compelled to review security procedures following this month's shooting at the Pentagon, last month's IRS attack and a January shooting at the Las Vegas federal courthouse.

“Violence against federal workers and installations is never acceptable,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) “Those who, for cheap political pandering, find themselves justifying it most assuredly have the blood of its innocent victims...on their hands.”

Though House lawmakers have no immediate plans to further address the issue, aides to Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he plans to propose changes to FPS next month.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 16, 2010; 6:12 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Congress, Workplace Issues  
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Comments

Sad to hear especially when many Federal Buildings need security moreso than at any other point in their history

Posted by: Bious | March 16, 2010 11:38 PM | Report abuse

Sad to hear especially when many Federal Buildings need security moreso than at any other point in their history

Posted by: Bious | March 16, 2010 11:38 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand the connection between recent attacks and building security. How was building security expected to stop a plane? How was building security expected to prevent someone from shooting at building security? Guard the guards?

Posted by: corrections | March 17, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

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