Senators push for changes at agency that secures federal buildings

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 22, 2010; 10:54 PM

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) is pushing for changes at the agency responsible for protecting thousands of federal buildings more than 14 months after he blasted it for security gaps at several major government facilities.

Lieberman and other members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this week introduced a bill to overhaul the Federal Protective Service (FPS), a small unit of the Department of Homeland Security that provides security for about 1.5 million federal workers at 9,000 federal facilities.

The protective service uses a mix of 800 full-time federal inspectors and 15,000 private security guards. The agency also drafts building security plans for federal tenants.

Last summer, the committee criticized FPS after government auditors successfully entered 10 major federal buildings with bombmaking materials.

"In all the years I've been hearing GAO reports, that's about the broadest indictment of an agency of the federal government that I've heard, and it's not pleasant to hear it," Lieberman, the committee chairman, said at a July 2009 hearing on the findings. "We're obviously going to try to work together with the agency to improve its performance."

Lieberman aides promised legislation within weeks, but the Fort Hood shootings in November, the failed Christmas Day airplane bomb attack and the thwarted Times Square bomb attempt pulled staffers away from drafting a bill.

Now, with little time left this year for Congress to complete legislation, Lieberman and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) want FPS to hire 500 new full-time workers.

The lawmakers also want the agency to establish new national training standards for private guards, including at least 80 hours of training before they begin work. And in an effort to strike a better balance between security concerns and easy public access to government buildings, the senators also proposed a way for agencies to appeal FPS security plans if the measures potentially hinder public access.

The proposed Senate bill is similar to a House proposal unveiled last week that would allow FPS to hire 550 new workers, require the agency to establish national training standards and explore ways to federalize private security guards.

One big difference between the two measures: The Senate bill gives full-time FPS inspectors the right to carry their weapons when off-duty, something long sought by their union representatives.

There has been no official word on how quickly the bills will advance or whether they may be merged into a Homeland Security authorization bill, as some aides privately suggest.

"The senator is hoping for lame-duck passage but is fully aware of all the traps that lie ahead," said Lieberman spokeswoman Leslie Phillips.

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