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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 03/ 8/2011

Security guards caught napping, watching TV on the job

By Ed O'Keefe

Private security guards protecting the Social Security Administration were found napping, watching television, chatting with coworkers, talking for hours on the phone and failing to check identification badges at security checkpoints, according to a new watchdog report.

The report, by the agency's office of inspector general, details several concerns with guards employed by Paragon Systems Inc. of Chantilly, Va., a private security firm providing security services at federal installations across the Washington area. The company says it has made changes to protective services at the SSA headquarters in suburban Baltimore and disputes some of the conclusions published in the report released last week.

Between January and August 2010, auditors observed several guards assigned to fixed posts not checking identification badges, "dozing off" at their posts and "loitering at posts involved in personal conversations." During a weekend spot check, a guard was found watching a small television under a desk; guards assigned to roving patrols were observed not providing foot patrols, according to the report.

"Guards not complying with post orders as required by the contract could compromise SSA's physical security," the report said.

Guards also appeared to have inadequate weapons and equipment training. Two guards neglected to pause an X-ray scanner to review scanned items, while other guards appeared unable to operate vehicle barriers and other screening equipment. And despite the generally accepted preference that inspectors be the same gender as a person being inspected, "We also viewed two male guards using the hand-held wand metal detectors on female contractors entering the building," the report said.

Agency officials also complained about a high volume of telephone calls made to guard posts. Telephone logs from May 1 to June 11, 2010 found 227 calls lasting more than 20 minutes and 23 calls lasting one hour or longer; 69 calls were made overnight to the posts, leading investigators and agency officials to conclude the calls "were not of a business nature."

Paragon has been paid about $71 million as part of a 10-year, $242 million security contract agreement, according to the report.

SSA officials cooperated with the inspector general and shared several concerns with watchdogs, according to the report. Agency officials cited in the report vowed to closely monitor the contract.

In a statement, the company said it has "grave concerns" with the report's conclusions because the incidents detailed occurred last year and were quickly corrected.

"This misleading disclosure gives an incomplete picture of the swift actions taken by Paragon to resolve these problems, including replacing personnel and installing an independent quality control officer to monitor progress," the company said in a statement.

"Paragon believes that the concerns noted in the recent OIG report, and initially identified in discussions with the client last spring, have been effectively addressed and resolved," the company said.

The report comes at a time of increased threats against administrative law judges who settle disputes regarding Social Security benefits. They were targeted at least 50 times during the latest six-month reporting period -- up significantly from numbers collected between 2002 and 2005, according to the Association of Administrative Law Judges.

Threats against SSA employees generally are also on the rise, jumping from 897 in fiscal 2007 to 2,336 last year, according to the inspector general's office. About 13 percent of 2,100 employees quizzed by the IG said they'd been threatened at work in the last three years -- half of them more than once.

Concerns with private security firms protecting federal property are nothing new. The most damning allegations stem from a July 2009 Government Accountability Office report that exposed lax security procedures at 10 of the nation's largest federal installations. Government investigators successfully smuggled bomb-making materials into the buildings and constructed small explosive devices that could have detonated.

Subsequent reports on poor record-keeping and training records have led to few, if any changes. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who requested the 2009 report, is preparing to reintroduce a bill establishing stricter training standards and oversight of the Federal Protective Service, the tiny Homeland Security agency responsible for protecting more than one million federal workers at 9,000 federal buildings.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 8, 2011; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Oversight  
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Posted by: hdanzige | March 8, 2011 10:31 AM | Report abuse

No Comment.

Posted by: bigmac1810 | March 8, 2011 10:33 AM | Report abuse

No oversight whatsoever.

Posted by: America2010 | March 8, 2011 10:33 AM | Report abuse

The report sounds about right for the private security guards at my federal facility.

Posted by: Cosmo2 | March 8, 2011 10:51 AM | Report abuse

This is nothing new, i agree with the above remark about tis is what happens when certain folk are given jobs. I saw a security guard napping at BWI in the Daily Parking Garage. I told Md State trooper, who shrugged and didn't appear concerned.

Posted by: soccerhead | March 8, 2011 10:57 AM | Report abuse

you racist cowards..come outof your cave and say that on the street! lol..of course you wont

Posted by: BrianLNapper | March 8, 2011 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Here at the USDA South Building, I've observed the contract guard service committing essentially all the same things for years. We've got some guards who are so obese Lord help us all if they need to run a bit or climb a few staircases in the event of an emergency. I've even observed them discussing/arguing things among themselves ignoring the goings-on at the doors!! Whatever...

Posted by: rpcv84 | March 8, 2011 11:08 AM | Report abuse

LOL Were you expecting a crack team of Army Rangers?

These AREN'T govenment jobs. They're a little better than minimum wage private contractors.

"And despite the generally accepted preference that inspectors be the same gender as a person being inspected, "We also viewed two male guards using the hand-held wand metal detectors on female contractors entering the building," the report said."

Not only is this NOT true, there is no such preference; it shows the mimimum qualifications of the person who wrote the report. You never begin a sentence with the word "and".

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | March 8, 2011 11:25 AM | Report abuse

At both of the federal offices I have worked at during the past 10 years I would say that the behavior outlined in this report is the norm, not the exception. Is there such a thing as an underweight security guard?

Posted by: Axel2 | March 8, 2011 11:28 AM | Report abuse

TSA to the rescue! Stripsearching babies and feeling up female underwire bra wearers! Taking pictures and keeping the negatives! X-ray pr0n! Yeagh!

Posted by: bs2004 | March 8, 2011 11:38 AM | Report abuse

What does the public expect when you go to a low bidder. The same holds true for the blue collar workers that were replaced by contractors. The Navy is currently paying over twice the cost for maintenance that the goverment employees were costing and they are getting a subpar product. Word is that the second contractor in 5 years will be removed due to lack of service.

Posted by: nerraw00 | March 8, 2011 11:42 AM | Report abuse

I'm sure it's not just at the SSA.

Posted by: jckdoors | March 8, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

A 10 year contract is ridiculous. SSA is to blame for giving them such a long term deal. No incentive to keep performance high. They will slack for 8 years and then do well the last 2.

Posted by: johnfchick1 | March 8, 2011 12:08 PM | Report abuse

SSA = Sound Sleep Assured. Gotta luv them gubmint workers.

Posted by: CubsFan | March 8, 2011 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I agree with johnfchick1, A 10 year contract IS ridiculous, particularly for a service that does not have significant upfront investment costs. Regarding wage, the workers may be paid at little more than government wage, but you can be sure that the government is being billed at a rate comparable to the GS wage for the position, plus overhead.

Posted by: theorajones23 | March 8, 2011 12:31 PM | Report abuse

This is the problem of contracting. Direct hires would be held accountable and have some pride in guarding the employees they are supposed to protect.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | March 8, 2011 12:38 PM | Report abuse

These slugs are about as competent as the TSA goons who feel up travelers.

Posted by: LarryG62 | March 8, 2011 12:45 PM | Report abuse

comment to johnmarshall5446. these are not minimum wage jobs if being contracted by the governmet. if contracted thru govt of DHS or ICE or GSA these guards are paid prevailing wage as in my area of KC,MO about 30 bucks an hour. so some one is getting over

Posted by: robertbeaver | March 8, 2011 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Okay...I have been wondering when this government make work charade would come to light.

While in the military back in the 70's thru the 90's I often made ends meet by working as a GSA guard at a private company with a government contract.

All that this article reports, happens all the time. The worst part was the training provided. The classes required were not to bad but when it came to qualifying with weapons...lookout. They had a 70% fail rate at the GSA range. And many of the guards had to go many times before they could finally qualify with their weapon.

Overweight and definitely not to bright was the standard for most of the guards hired. These were people one step from welfare that had poor work ethics and questionable morals.

For a military person...getting a job there was no sweat. Most of the decent guards were either active military personnel or former military personnel.

And yes the pay was quite good for a job that didn't require much in the way of physical or mental exertion.

On the other hand, a minority of the employees were rude and uncoperative with rules that were in place for their safety and protection. No wonder that some of the guards might not check some people's ID's. It becomes an unspoken agreement after awhile. Even management looks the other way to avoid the hassles from the employee or the guard.

Oh and by the way, there were civilian employees of the company sleeping on the midnight shifts too. lol

Posted by: jrealty | March 8, 2011 1:55 PM | Report abuse

This is pretty much average at every Federal facility I visit. They are on their cell phones chatting; they don't even look at the monitors when xraying bags or purses. I've seen them wand people and the sensors give off a squelch but they don't follow up with a pat down. When a metal detector goes off, excuses like "I have metal studs in my boots" or "it's my belt buckle" allow you to be waved through. But as someone else said, they are low paid contract employees. You get what you paid for.

Posted by: rytis1 | March 8, 2011 2:04 PM | Report abuse


You are incorrect. The company they work for may be getting that much for their services, but none of these guys are making 30 an hour.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | March 8, 2011 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Right wing America. Where privatization and contracting out rule the day. All hail the private sector.

Posted by: vztownes | March 8, 2011 2:36 PM | Report abuse

How about changing what the IG report stated to “Guards not complying with post orders as required by the contract DID compromise SSA's physical security." Regardless if anything happened or not (how would they know?), security was compromised every time an untrained guard slept, disappeared, conducted personal calls, BSed with friends, failed to check badges, etc. Just imagine, what else went on that was not reported.

Paragon Systems “managers” who have “"grave concerns" with the report's conclusions because the incidents detailed occurred last year and were quickly corrected” are missing the point. THESE THINGS SHOULD NEVER HAVE HAPPENED IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!

Given the IG recommendations, it appears that this ¼ of a BILLION $$ contract must have been awarded on something other than merit. Recommendations are so basic:
1. Require contractor enforce strict adherence to post orders.
2. Modify contract to control number of roving posts left open while relief breaks are provided.
3. Modify contract to require contractor provide supervisor post inspections at least two times per shift for each post.
4. Formalize a Guard mount procedure prior to each shift.
5. Ensure contractor complies with proper procedures for signing in or develop another method for tracking the contract post

These are things a junior Marine NCO would know while running any guard detail. Looking at Paragon’s Board (a retired Major General and Secret Service agent), they should have assured these from the beginning. Then again, maybe they had enough top-cover from someone inside SSA that they didn’t care. Looking at things the contract lacked (“not requiring the contractor to enforce strict adherence to posted orders”), there is something wrong with the SSA contracting shop not including these mundane things in the contract. What kind of security and performance did the contract require Paragon to perform? Obviously, not much at all.

The IG then said “We determined that Paragon did not comply with the terms of the contract in certain areas. Specifically, we noted instances where guards did not perform the post orders as stated in the contract, and supervisors were not providing sufficient post inspections.” So, SSA, tell the American taxpayer (folks paying the bill), what penalty Paragon paid for not doing its job? How much money did it pay back for quality security work not performed? Did they lose the contract? Then tell us the names of senior SSA folks who had anything to do with the award of this contract who now work for Paragon or one of the other Pinkerton security companies.

Paragon should have lost this contract. Letting them keep it simply shows that the SSA, and the federal government don’t care about government facility security (and the people in them) as long as there is a jobs program in place and former government insiders can use their government connections to get rich in their older age… the taxpayer’s expense.

Posted by: highexpectations | March 8, 2011 4:27 PM | Report abuse

SSA = Sound Sleep Assured. Gotta luv them gubmint workers.

Posted by: CubsFan | March 8, 2011 12:13 PM

They aren't government workers. They are private contractors, as clearly stated in the article. That's the whole point. We (the taxpayers) were sold a bill of goods that privatization was the way to save the government money. I doubt it's saving the government much money, and it's clear that the taxpayers are paying more than they should for shoddy service. Nothing will get done until someone actually does smuggle a bomb or weapon in and let loose because a contract security guard was goofing off on the job.

Posted by: tistyen | March 8, 2011 4:56 PM | Report abuse

johnmarshall5446 - You should take an English class. Using And to start a sentence can be grammatically correct.

The idea that you're arguing grammar with the editorial staff of one of the nation's largest media outlets is humorous. Cite your qualifications please!

I work in the private sector and it sounds much better than this. I still wouldn't say my building is Ft. Knox, but no one is sleeping or watching TV.

Posted by: Gary34 | March 8, 2011 5:04 PM | Report abuse

So they're doing more work than the people they're protecting. Impressive.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | March 8, 2011 5:16 PM | Report abuse

The actual story here is that the IG actually inspected and found discrepancies. The discrepancies they found are not new. Anyone who has the littlest power of observation can tell you this. More inspections need to be done, without forewarning, and results published publicly in order to establish a trend which would allow for more oversight and quality control. Professionals don't let things like this happen.

Posted by: ioweioweoff2workigo | March 8, 2011 8:31 PM | Report abuse


I don't know where you went to school; but there are no grammatically correct sentences that begin with and.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | March 8, 2011 8:34 PM | Report abuse

and half of the SSA employees with PHDs really got them from unaccredited schools and fake PHDs diploma mill and UMI/Dissertation will show who really wrote a dissertation and not.

Posted by: Rockvillers | March 9, 2011 4:14 AM | Report abuse

WAIT...I thought it was GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES that were the slackers? (That's what everyone has been stating in the news lately!) Do you want cheap labor OR good that may cost a little more? Make up your minds people.

Posted by: fedup100 | March 9, 2011 9:05 AM | Report abuse

This is basically every security service at every federal building I've ever been too. Everyone who works there knows, but no one cares enough to do anything about it.

Posted by: TrustMe3 | March 9, 2011 9:53 AM | Report abuse

the security industry is a very critical industry . one has to think what is the background of he security guards do they even understand what security means and do they have that sense. for instance in uk to train in uk the training for security needs to be revamped different companies provide this training have a look at the scope

Posted by: w1234uk | March 11, 2011 7:35 AM | Report abuse

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