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Federal building security bill unveiled

By Ed O'Keefe

Private security guards protecting the nation's federal buildings may one day earn a government paycheck and could face new national training and certification standards if legislation introduced Monday advances in the coming months.

The proposals unveiled by members of the House Homeland Security Committee come more than a year after government auditors embarrassed the beleaguered Federal Protective Service by penetrating 10 major federal facilities with materials to construct a bomb. FPS provides security for about 1.5 million federal workers at 9,000 federal facilities with a mix of about 800 full-time federal inspectors and 15,000 private security guards.

The proposed legislation requires FPS to hire an additional 550 federal inspectors, a figure that is "really not enough," but all that the agency can handle right now, said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). The new hires should help the agency move toward federalizing most if not all of its private guards, she said.

Much as the Transportation Security Administration federalized the nation's airport security screeners after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "Many of us believe that it may be time to un-privatize the contractors of the Federal Protective Service or at least put in higher requirements," Jackson Lee said. Her proposals, cosponsored by Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), will probably be incorporated into a larger bill funding the Department of Homeland Security, she said.

The bill would establish a one-year pilot program for the Government Accountability Office to determine whether federally employed guards would do a better job than private guards at protecting government installations. The federal positions would become permanent if GAO determines the program's success, according to the bill. It also would for the first time implement nationwide training and certification standards for private guards and require FPS to hire contract oversight staffers to monitor the firms employing private guards.

Aides could not immediately provide an estimated cost for the bill.

House Republicans introduced a similar bill last Spring. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) is expected to introduce a similar bill as early as this week, aides said. The proposals come as federal buildings remain a target for violent attacks. A January shooting at a Las Vegas federal courthouse left a security officer dead and a U.S. marshal wounded, while a February plane crash at an Internal Revenue Service office in Austin killed one worker.

The union representing FPS inspectors supports the bill, but is disappointed it fails to give inspectors the ability to carry their weapons while off-duty, said David Wright, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 918.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | September 13, 2010; 6:20 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Contracting, Workplace Issues  
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Sure, federalize the security guards. That'll fix the problem.

Hey, it worked for the TSA, right?

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Posted by: strade24 | September 13, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

"Federalize" the security guards ?? Please, I assure you that will only make the problems worse. With security contracts, agency managers can remove poor performing officers quickly or replace an entire security firm with relative ease. With Federal employees, it will take twice as many workyears, cost three or four times as much and the poor performers will collect a government check for life. At least part of the solution is to decentralize the security operation that FPS does, allowing many (not all) of the agencies to directly manage their own security, with some oversight from FPS or Justice.

Posted by: JimZack | September 14, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

End a federal contract easily? In what world? Federal contracting rules make it almost impossible to end a federal contract without harming the agency and benefitting the contractor. Even if the contractor is a poor performer, the time and expense in terminating the contract (including penalties, fees and payments for costs incurred) make ending the contract the least cost effective option in some cases. Also, the federal procurement workforce is understaffed and overworked--that is why so many contracting abuses occur. Ending a contract just means that they will have to find another company to do the job--which can take up to six months.

Allow federal agencies to hire their own security contractors? They can do that already. And when they do, there are no federal security standards. So the contract can go to the lowest bidder. Security on the cheap, is not security at all. It is a mistake waiting to be exploited.

Finally, the argument that federal workers have jobs for life because they are not easily fired is nonsense. Federal workers can and do get fired. Most private sector jobs also have workplace protections. The truth of the matter is that it is easier to sue a private employer for wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, etc, than it is to sue the federal government.

Private security companies who operate in the US and abroad with little scrutiny and large but unquestioned paychecks are finally being asked to show that they are able to do the job. The evidence at FPS shows that they have failed miserably.

Posted by: wvawildfire | September 14, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

The IRS airplane attack is given as a reason for new laws and training. Are the guards going to be provided with anti-aircraft installations on all buildings?

Posted by: jiji1 | September 14, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

As a former Federal Police Officer (Federal Protection Officer) with over fifteen years of experience what is needed are more federal protection officers not more security guards who are paid just to do the minimum amount of work. Too much outsourcing has created this mess.
Thus, one way to fix this is by properly re-structuring FPS with an oversight division, such as, an Inspector General only for FPS ( Just as Capital Police did).


posted by RJH

Posted by: rjheredia9 | September 14, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

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