The Federal Protective Service, created by President Nixon in 1971 in the wake of riotings, bombings and the murder of a federal judge in Marin County, Calif., was envisioned as a way to give federal employes professional law enforcement protection.
Last year, officers in the service made 900 arrests, handled 14,000 robberies and thefts and supervised 1,507 demonstrations attended by an estimated 250,000 people.
But more than 700 of the 2,200 officers in the service are manning security desks in federal buildings, and the General Services Administration, which has responsibility for the service, says that's a poor use of their time.
"They should be an elite law enforcement group prepared to respond to emergencies affecting federal employes and to provide security to sensitive areas" such as the CIA, said GSA Administrator Gerald P. Carmen. "They should not be manning desks admitting people into federal buildings."
GSA officials said officers will be removed from virtually all fixed posts and assigned to patrol, law enforcement and supervisory duties by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, GSA officials say there's another problem with the Federal Protective Service that needs correcting. Officers get lower salaries, fewer benefits and less leave time for injuries than their counterparts in the U.S. Park Police, the uniformed division of the Secret Service and the U.S. Capitol Police.
GSA officials say that changing this situation is one of their top legislative priorities this year, and a bill to improve the powers and benefits of the protective service is being prepared for Office of Management and Budget perusal.
Picking up on a piece of the problem, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has introduced a bill that would make it a federal crime to kill a federal protective officer. Frank took up the issue after a guard at the Kennedy Library in Boston, near his district, died of a gunshot wound suffered while on routine patrol last year.
"The federal government owes it to the brave employes of the Federal Protective Service to see to it that the full force of federal law is brought to bear against those who would assault or kill these individuals," Frank said.
WHO'LL MIND THE DOOR? . . . If the federal protective officers head out on patrol, some of their building security duties might be taken over by electronic equipment.
"If we have to do more with less, the way to do it is by electronic security equipment," said Richard O. Haase, GSA's public buildings commissioner. "What sense is there in having an officer go around a building and lock 200 doors when an electronic system can do that every day, on the time designated, in a second?"
At GSA's regional headquarters, a command center with state-of-the-art electronic equipment monitors 638 security and "duress" alarm systems that are connected throughout the National Capitol Region. The GSA is in the process of converting these and automatic fire alarms to a computer system that will display all the critical information on a break-in, burglary or fire that now must be collected by an officer. The $300,000 computers will be in place by the end of the year.
Another system ties the GSA into the FBI's National Crime Information Center--a link that last year allowed the GSA to recover more than 100 stolen IBM typewriters.
Virtually all federal buildings in the region are equipped with some security device. The most common are infrared photoelectric cells that report when someone has entered a room (similar to devices that open elevator doors when a beam of light is broken), magnetic switches (to secure doors) and ultrasonic systems (which detect breathing in supposedly secure areas). In addition, microwave systems bounce beams off individuals moving in a secure room, and other systems detect if anyone approaches a secure file cabinet.
GSA is also using state-of-the-art walkie-talkies in some regions to patch through FPOs to telephone lines and communications centers up to 600 miles from federal buildings.
Said Quinton Y. Lawson, head of the Federal Protective Service, "Everyone's demands and needs are different, and we've got to keep them all happy in 7,500 buildings nationwide."
BETTER CARS . . . Hoping that buying a sturdier car will lower maintenance costs on the vehicles that the FPOs use to respond to crisis situations, GSA has borrowed a Dodge Diplomat used by the New Jersey Highway Patrol. The sturdy vehicle is now in the third week of an eight-week test to determine if GSA should contract for something larger and more dependable than the multitude of mid-size cars it now buys.