By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 10, 2011; 1:00 AM
Private security officers who guard the headquarters of the National Archives are not properly trained to respond to threats to visitors, the staff or the holdings, a report by the agency's watchdog reveals.
Without a more robust system of testing and drills for the guards, the Archives "has no assurance officers are proficient enough with their weapons" to respond to an attack, the agency's inspector general said in an emergency memo to top Archives officials.
"We lack the confidence the security officers would be able to respond appropriately during an incident," Inspector General Paul Brachfeld warned Archivist David S. Ferriero in a two-page letter last fall. The letter had not been made public, but a copy was recently obtained by The Washington Post.
Brachfeld said building security deserves heightened priority in light of the September hostage crisis at the Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring and the 2009 shooting inside the Holocaust Museum.
This weekend, a gunman critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), killed a federal judge, a Giffords aide and four others. Several others were also wounded.
Brachfeld's concerns echo previous alarms sounded by federal auditors about the security provided by contractors hired to protect workers at federal buildings around the country. The Federal Protective Service, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, guards 9,000 federal facilities with a mix of about 800 full-time federal inspectors and 15,000 private guards.
A sting operation by the Government Accountability Office in 2009 exposed lax procedures used by contract guards. In the operation, guards failed to catch auditors as they carried bomb-making materials through contractor-run X-ray checkpoints and assembled explosives in the restrooms of 10 high-security buildings. At the time, FPS director Gary W. Schenkel told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the force suffered staff attrition and budget shortfalls after its transfer in 2003 from the General Services Administration to the Homeland Security agency.
Archivist Ferriero, in a statement last week, said, "Security of people and collections is our number one concern."
Lynn Oliver, chief executive for the contractor, Dulles-based American Security Programs, said the company was "following agreed-upon procedures at the time" of the audit. "They've now been changed." Oliver said he could not elaborate because the audit is still underway.
Brachfeld said the final audit would be completed soon. His office issued the emergency memo to put the Archives on alert, he said.
Ferriero would not say whether the Archives has stepped up oversight of the private contractors who guard the institution's headquarters in downtown Washington and the massive complex in College Park known as Archives II. The agency's security management division oversees the contractor.
American Security Programs won $81 million in contracts with federal agencies from fiscal year 2000 to 2009, including the U.S. Navy, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Army and the Office of Personnel Management, according to FedSpending.org, a database of federal spending.
Brachfeld said the guards received firearms training with an independent company at their own expense instead of training through a more rigorous qualifying course provided by the contractor. The firearms instructor would not allow agents with the inspector general's office to witness the training, Brachfeld said, leaving him to conclude that there is no way to know whether the guards are proficient at shooting.
The contractor also lacks an adequate physical-fitness program to train the force, investigators found. And neither the contractor nor the Archives security division conducts regular drills to test whether guards can respond in emergencies.
The chief of the security division told investigators that the Archives would rely on local police or first responders during a crisis. But there have been no joint drills or "active engagement with first responders" to familiarize them with the Archives buildings, Brachfeld's initial memo said. Instead, the guards are given "binders of written directions" to respond to emergencies.
Legislation that would beef up the force with new hires and national training standards, and require an evaluation of making the contract guards federal employees, is pending in Congress.