Democratic and Republican leaders of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee introduced bipartisan legislation Monday to reform and modernize the Federal Protective Service (FPS), which is responsible for providing security at 9,000 federal buildings with 1,200 fulltime employees and 15,000 contract guards.
The Supporting Employee Competency and Updating Readiness Enhancements for Facilities Act of 2010 (SECURE Facilities Act) was introduced by Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia Chairman Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and Subcommittee Ranking Member George Voinovich, R-Ohio.
"FPS is essentially a dysfunctional agency whose mission is in grave peril," Lieberman said. "Budget shortfalls, mismanagement and multiple operational challenges have taken their toll on the agency, making it a prime candidate for reform. We aim to provide FPS with adequate resources, strengthen its management capabilities, and help it function at a higher level so it can more effectively protect visitors and employees at federal buildings across this country."
Collins said: "The FPS is charged with securing nearly 9,000 federal facilities and protecting the government employees who work in them, and the Americans who use them to access vital services. But, independent investigations by the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General have documented serious and systemic security flaws within the operations of the FPS. These lapses place federal employees and private citizens at risk.
"While shining a light on these failings in multiple hearings, our Committee pressed the FPS to take action to close these security gaps. Although some tentative steps have been taken by FPS, we can no longer wait for the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Homeland Security to implement the absolutely critical security measures necessary to help protect our federal buildings, our federal employees, and the American public. The SECURE Facilities Act would help close these security gaps at our federal buildings. The American public that relies on these facilities and the federal employees who work in them deserve better and more reliable protection."
Akaka said: "I am pleased to join this bipartisan effort to address training and operational challenges within the Federal Protective Service. "This legislation ensures FPS has the full time staff it needs to carry out its mission, and increases oversight of contract guards. FPS must have the tools it needs to keep over 9,000 federal facilities safe."
Voinovich said: "We must do all we can to ensure that our federal buildings are safe for employees and visitors alike. This much-needed bill will bring FPS up to the staffing and security levels needed to protect these individuals and property. I urge my colleagues to support this bill."
The senators asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to undertake a comprehensive review of the FPS, leading to eight reports to Congress between 2004 and 2010. GAO concluded that contract guards lacked adequate training, FPS oversight of the guards was poor, and many of the standards and manuals guiding guard behavior were outdated. GAO investigators were able to slip bomb-making materials through security at several high security buildings, assemble a bomb in a public restroom, and wander the halls at will. Elsewhere a contract guard was found to be asleep at his station, while another allowed an infant in a carrier to go through an x-ray machine.
The SECURE Facilities Act of 2010 addresses shortcomings reported by the GAO and congressional oversight and incorporates many of GAO's recommendations. Under the SECURE Facilities Act, FPS would be formally authorized for the first time, as would the interagency body responsible for establishing security standards for all federal facilities.
The bill addresses four major challenges:
* Ensure that FPS has sufficient personnel to carry out its mission. This legislation provides adequate resources for FPS to hire 500 additional full time employees over the next four years. It also ensures that FPS never employs fewer than 1,200 full time employees at any point.
* Tackle deficiencies within the contract guard program. The bill requires FPS to maintain testing programs to assess the training of guards, security of federal facilities, and to establish procedures for retraining or terminating ineffective guards.
* Ensure FPS is focused and prepared to address the threat of explosives. The SECURE Facilities Act requires DHS to establish performance-based standards for checkpoint detection technologies for explosives and other threats at federal facilities. It would allow FPS officers to carry firearms off duty, just as most other federal law enforcement officers can, enabling them to respond to incidents more quickly.
* Pay attention to the delicate balance between public access and security. Though the emphasis remains on security, the bill also supports avenues of appeal if a building tenant believes security measures unduly hinder public access.