Agencies doing job they already paid FPS to do

Tuesday - 9/11/2012, 3:46pm EDT

By Amanda Iacone
Federal News Radio

The Federal Protective Service is under fire for not doing enough to safeguard government buildings, placing a million federal workers at risk.

A Government Accountability Office report released this week says that federal agencies have begun conducting their own threat assessments even though they collectively paid $236 million to FPS to provide that same service in fiscal 2011. And the service stopped using a Web-based program created in 2009 to help better manage thousands of guards who provide basic security and policing at more than 9,000 federal buildings.

FPS has not determined the chances of a violent or terror event occurring at federal facilities nor what the consequences of such an event might be. Instead FPS has collected basic information for federal buildings including the agency housed in the facility, contact information and basic security features like perimeter fences and video surveillance, the report said.

The agency had planned to conduct risk assessments on 5,000 buildings between 2010 and 2012, but because of incomplete record-keeping, GAO could not say for sure how many were analyzed, the report said.

And as much as 9 percent of the buildings had no date listed for the most recent assessment. Agencies like the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have sought their own threat evaluations because of concerns about the quality and the thoroughness of the FPS reports.

The risk survey tool the agency uses also cannot compare risk levels among federal facilities. Because of those deficiencies, GAO said, "FPS has limited assurance that critical risks at federal facilities are being prioritized and mitigated."

The service also does not independently verify whether any of the 12,500 contract guards receive their required weapons training and certifications and relies on the contractors to provide that information, which makes it difficult for the service to manage that workforce, GAO reported. That's despite a $35 million project to develop a Web-based guard-management system called RAMP, which the agency has stopped using and is looking to find a replacement for.

Contract guards control access to federal facilities, screen visitors for weapons and explosives, enforce property rules and regulations, and respond to emergencies.

Recommendations

GAO recommended that FPS follow the risk-assessment standards that calculate risk based on threat, vulnerability and consequences. FPS should coordinate with the Homeland Security Department and the General Services Administration to eliminate duplicative risk-assessment efforts.

The report also recommends that DHS independently verify the training and certification of the guards working for the protective service. FPS falls under the umbrella of homeland security.

DHS agreed with the recommendations, according to a letter attached to the report.