Legislation would federalize private guards who protect U.S. government buildings

Smoke billows from a seven-story building in Austin that housed an Internal Revenue Service office after a plane crashed into it in February.
Smoke billows from a seven-story building in Austin that housed an Internal Revenue Service office after a plane crashed into it in February. (Alberto Martinez/associated Press)
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By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Private security guards protecting the nation's federal buildings might one day earn a government paycheck and could face new national training and certification standards if legislation introduced Monday advances in the coming months.

The proposals unveiled by members of the House Homeland Security Committee come more than a year after government auditors embarrassed the beleaguered Federal Protective Service by penetrating 10 major federal facilities with materials to construct a bomb. The FPS provides security for about 1.5 million federal workers at 9,000 federal facilities with a mix of about 800 full-time federal inspectors and 15,000 private security guards.

The legislation would require the FPS to hire 550 new federal inspectors, a figure that is "really not enough," but all that the agency can handle right now, said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.). The new hires should help the agency move toward federalizing most, if not all, of its private guards, she said.

Much as the Transportation Security Administration federalized the nation's airport security screeners after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, "Many of us believe that it may be time to un-privatize the contractors of the Federal Protective Service or at least put in higher requirements," Jackson Lee said. Her proposals, cosponsored by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), will probably be incorporated into a larger bill funding the Department of Homeland Security, she said.

The bill would establish a one-year pilot program for the Government Accountability Office to determine whether federally employed guards would do a better job than private guards at protecting government installations. The federal positions would become permanent if GAO deemed the program a success, according to the bill. It also would for the first time implement nationwide training and certification standards for private guards and require the FPS to hire contract oversight staffers to monitor the firms employing private guards.

Aides could not immediately provide an estimated cost of the bill.

House Republicans introduced a similar measure in the spring. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) is expected to introduce a similar bill this week, aides said. The proposals come as federal buildings remain a target for violent attacks. A January shooting at a Las Vegas federal courthouse left a security officer dead and a U.S. Marshal wounded, and a February suicide plane crash at an Internal Revenue Service office in Austin killed one worker as well as the pilot.

The union representing FPS inspectors supports the bill but is disappointed that it fails to give inspectors the ability to carry their weapons when off duty, said David Wright, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 918.


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