Once again, Congress is trying to figure out how to fix the Federal Protective Service, this time with Wednesday’s hearing by the House Homeland Security subcommittee on cybersecurity, infrastructure protection and security technologies.
The small agency has a big mission, protecting 9,000 federal facilities around the country. But it is underfunded, and most of its officers are private security guards.
Over the last few years, there have been numerous hearings, under the leadership of Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), and critical Government Accountability Office reports on the service. But, says current Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), “several perennial problems” remain.
FPS is the odd federal law enforcement agency where employment has fallen since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That’s odd because the service is responsible for protecting federal facilities, which probably would be on the hit lists of would-be terrorists.
While the number of employees has fallen from about 1,450 in 2003 to fewer than 1,200 in January, the agency now has about 13,000 contract guards, more than double the number employed on Sept. 11. The service is chronically underfunded by a scheme that draws revenue from fees paid by agencies using space in federal facilities protected by FPS.
Reliance on so many private company guards likely will be an area of debate at the hearing. Despite repeated problems with private guards, in some cases related to poor training, there is Republican opposition to federalizing them.
One such problem occurred in February, when a bag with a bomb was left outside Detroit’s McNamara Federal Building. A private security guard, working on an FPS contract, took the bag inside the building and placed it in the lost-and-found without, apparently, inspecting it. Fortunately, the bomb did not explode.
“The Detroit . . . incident was an example of how not to respond to suspicious packages,” said Lungren.
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