Honor the Navy Yard dead; prepare to protect the living

Joe Davidson
Columnist September 17, 2013

The dead:

Michael Arnold, 59, an aviation enthusiast, was building a light airplane.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

Martin Bodrog, 54, a Naval Academy graduate, loved the Boston Bruins; he was a big guy who taught Bible-study classes for 3-year-olds.

Arthur Daniels, 51, had nine grandchildren and installed office furniture.

Sylvia Frasier, 53, was a network-security administrator with the Naval Sea Systems Command.

Kathleen Gaarde, 62, was a financial analyst and a big Washington Capitals fan.

John Roger Johnson, 73, was known as a great neighbor in his Derwood neighborhood for three decades.

Mary Knight, 51, an information technology expert, doted on her daughters.

Frank Kohler, 50, affiliated with the Rotary Club, was married with two daughters and lived in St. Mary’s County.

Vishnu Pandit, 61, a University of Michigan graduate from India, was a proud Navy employee for more than 25 years.

Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46, was a utilities foreman with two teenage boys.

Gerald L. Read, 58, an information assurance specialist, loved his black Lab and was a Civil War buff.

Richard Michael Ridgell, 52, a former Maryland State Police officer, joined Facebook to keep up with his daughters.

Real people. Real lives.

They are now dead after a gunman, identified as Aaron Alexis, went on a rampage at the Washington Navy Yard.

My colleagues have collected more information about the fallen. Read it to honor them.

Even as we remember the dead, attention must turn to better protecting the living. Federal workplaces are safe places, but Monday’s rampage demonstrates that no place can be safe enough. After-action reports will examine what happened and what needs to happen to prevent the next mass killing.

Anthony Meely knows where he would start.

He is a Navy Yard police officer and speaks in his role as chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police Naval District Washington Labor Committee. When the shooter started firing not long after 8 a.m. Monday, “we only had five officers at work,” he said.

About twice as many are needed, Meely insists, “to meet the minimum of our requirements.”

Navy Yard Police Chief Michael McKinney was reached by phone and e-mail, but he said he did not have time to respond to Meely’s comments.

Meanwhile, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier praised the quick response of her department and all the other police officers. Their work probably prevented the list of the dead from being longer than it is.

But it’s better to stop a tragedy before the blood flows than to praise the response as relatives plan funerals. Could more Navy Yard police officers have stopped Alexis? That can’t be known.

What investigators do want to know is what security procedures should be developed to better protect federal facilities. Many of those buildings, but not the Navy Yard, are guarded by the Federal Protective Service (FPS).

“FPS continually assesses and appropriately adjusts security measures to an ever-evolving threat picture,” said Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

It is known that employees and contractors at federal facilities generally can walk through security with the flash of a badge. They don’t have to empty their pockets, pass through metal detectors or have their bags scanned as visitors do.

Should that change? Should rules differ for employees and contractors like Alexis?

Making things more difficult for federal employees is a terrible idea, said Matthew Biggs, legislative director of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, which represents employees in several departments including Defense.

“This is clearly a tragic event, but to react by targeting federal employees for extra scrutiny is not only outrageous, it is completely misguided,” he said. “Security certainly does need to be enhanced, but not at the expense of federal workers.”

J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, wants to tighten security requirements on contractors, not employees.

“We do believe that standards for security clearances for contractors need to be changed, and that most government work that involves security clearances should be performed by federal employees, not contractors,” Cox said. “In addition, we believe that access to government facilities for contractors should be severely restrained.”

Stan Soloway, president and chief executive of the Professional Services Council, which represents contractors, warned against hasty action. “It is far too early to say what kinds of changes are needed to security or facility clearance processes because we simply don’t have all of the facts yet,” he said.

President Obama has directed the Office of Management and Budget to examine the security clearance standards for contractors and employees across federal agencies. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is already reviewing security clearance policies for certain workers. The Office of Personnel Management, which oversees security-clearance background investigations, also will be involved.

Monday’s shooting, of course, gives good reason to review security at federal facilities.

In the wake of this tragedy, Boogaard said that “the security at federal facilities across the country is robust.” Having been in many federal buildings, I agree. And there’s always a need to balance freedom and security.

But it only takes one madman with a gun to show that, at least at the Navy Yard on Monday, security was not robust enough.

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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