Federal courthouses, personnel could be at risk, report says
Federal judges and court personnel could be at risk because of poor training, questionable contracts and broken security equipment used by guards protecting the nation's federal courthouses, according to a new report by the Justice Department's inspector general.
Federal courthouse security is handled by the U.S. Marshals Service, which employs about 5,000 contract guards to protect more than 2,000 federal judges and 6,000 other court personnel working at 400 court facilities nationwide.
But multiple district offices failed to detect mock explosive devices sent to them in February 2009 by agency officials as part of a test of local security procedures, the report said. Three unnamed federal district court chief judges at unspecified locations shared serious concerns about security procedures, especially with how guards screen visitors and large vehicles entering courthouses. Names and locations were not published for security purposes, according to the inspector general's office.
Courthouse security is divided into 12 districts, and a review of six districts found that security officials and judges do not meet regularly to review security procedures. Officers in three districts failed to conduct quarterly testing of contract guards to review how they screen visitors, packages and mail.
Despite concerns about physical security at courthouses, the report did not reference any specific or imminent threats against federal judges or court facilities. Federal court personnel were the target of 1,278 threats in fiscal 2008, more than double the threats received in 2003, according to an inspector general's report published last year.
The report raises concerns with the Marshals' management of contracts with private security firms, noting that the agency awarded a $300 million contract to a company with a history of fraud that later filed for bankruptcy, leaving many private guards without pay or benefits.
The Marshals also lack maintenance agreements for millions of dollars worth of security screening equipment, the report said. In some cases, X-ray machines and metal detectors were out of service for periods of one day to several weeks, investigators found.
Compounding the concerns, a sampling of personnel files found that more than half contained out-of-date medical examination records and a third lacked firearms qualification records. Background checks also were not completed in a timely manner, according to a sampling of background investigation records for private guards.
Jeff Carter, a Marshals spokesman, said the agency worked with the inspector general's office on the investigation and is making changes recommended by investigators.
"We take these responsibilities seriously and realize there is always room for improvement and continue to make great strides in our efforts to protect the federal judiciary," Carter said in an e-mail. "The Marshals Service is proud of our ability to ensure the safe and secure conduct of judicial proceedings."
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| November 22, 2010; 3:45 PM ET
Categories: Agencies and Departments, Oversight, Workplace Issues
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