The full House Homeland Security Committee will consider legislation designed to improve the much criticized Federal Protective Service, a measure Democrats and others say does not go far enough.

The subcommittee on cybersecurity, infrastructure protection and security technologies approved the Federal Protective Service Reform and Enhancement Act on Thursday. The legislation would establish minimum training and certification standards, including at least 16 hours of X-ray and magnetometer training by FPS. FPS also would be allowed to covertly test guards and remove contractors who do not meet security performance standards.

FPS is responsible for security at more than 9,000 federal buildings. It has been the subject of numerous hearings and critical reports by the Government Accountability Office.

Problems with the service, which uses private security guards on contract, were highlighted in February when a guard took a bag, without inspecting it, left outside a federal building in Detroit to the lost and found inside the building. The bag contained a bomb, which was not discovered for three weeks. Fortunately, it did not explode.

That episode demonstrated a “fundamental ineptitude” at the agency , Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), chairman of the cybersecurity subcommittee, said at a hearing earlier this month.

“The current state of FPS is unacceptable, and legislative action is necessary and warranted,” Lungren said in a statement after Thursday’s vote. “This bill will strengthen the security of our Federal buildings, reduce the risk to the hundreds of thousands of Federal employees and their visitors, and ensure that the vital day-to-day functions of our government are protected.”

However, the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.), said the bill “does not take the necessary steps that the GAO has said repeatedly would help fix FPS.”

In a statement prepared before the vote, Clarke said that at a minimum, FPS needs workforce stability, uniform and enforceable training standards, uniform performance standards, a culture of accountability and “a dedicated cadre of contract managers.”

“Meaningful reform at FPS cannot proceed without these necessary changes,” she said. “Unfortunately, H.R. 2658, as introduced, does little to accomplish any of these critical objectives.”

David L. Wright, an FPS officer who is president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 918, said the bill is “a step forward,” but he added: “I am extremely disappointed that the subcommittee did not work to restore the nearly 200 positions lost by FPS since the transfer into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. We can only expect that our Agency’s failing performance could be perpetuated without proper resourcing by Congress.”

Steve Amitay, legislative counsel of the National Association of Security Companies, which represents private security firms contracting with FPS, said the bill’s “provisions calling for more effective supervision of the contract guard program, increased X-ray and magnetometer training, better tracking of guard posts and certifications, and the establishment of a program to periodically assess the training of contract guards are definite steps in the right direction for FPS.

“Other steps can also be taken,” Amitay said, “and we look forward to working with both the Homeland Security Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on the legislation.”


Follow the Federal Diary on Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP