Pentagon shooting puts federal building security back in spotlight

Pentagon security was tightened last week after a shooting in which a gunman opened fire and three officers returned it, killing him.
Pentagon security was tightened last week after a shooting in which a gunman opened fire and three officers returned it, killing him. (Linda Davidson/the Washington Post)
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By Ed O'Keefe
Tuesday, March 9, 2010

House members will resume discussions next week about federal building security in the wake of last week's shooting at the Pentagon -- the latest attack on federal facilities across the country.

Government union leaders have suggested that Washington isn't serious about addressing workplace security, even after a report last summer from the Government Accountability Office exposed serious gaps in protection at 10 major federal buildings. The study gained wide attention upon its release, but has generated little public discourse since then.

But the shooting at the Pentagon, which followed a February plane crash at Internal Revenue Service offices in Austin and a January shooting at the federal courthouse in Las Vegas, has prompted further attention from lawmakers.

The House subcommittee on the federal workforce plans to focus especially on how federal agencies are sharing tips on threats with local law enforcement agencies, which could be unfamiliar with the tenants and security efforts at government buildings in their jurisdictions. The committee has invited Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to attend, but aides said they have not decided whether she will.

Plans for the hearing were underway before the Pentagon shooting, aides said Monday.

Separately, aides to Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he plans to introduce a bill with proposed federal security changes in April, after delaying it last fall to account for the shootings at Fort Hood, Tex.

"These recent assaults on federal employees seem to be motivated by a deep-seated and irrational hostility against the government," Lieberman said late last week.

Such bold statements are what federal workers need to hear, said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS workers.

"So long as we disrespect our public servants -- and so long as public figures fail to speak out against statements that condone acts of violence, and in fact speak in ways easily construed as being supportive of them -- we continue to run the risk of more and more incidents such as the one at the Pentagon and the particularly tragic event in Austin," Kelley said late last week.

In an interview Monday, she said she fears that attention and concern for federal security will soon dissipate, as it did after the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

"There was a lot of attention and sincere focus, but as time passes without another incident, just in the rush of day-to-day business, sometimes it doesn't get the ongoing attention that it needs," Kelley said.

In an effort to keep the issue on lawmakers' minds, union members plan to visit congressional offices this week to try to secure statements of public support for federal workers, she said.

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