The Washington Post

Senators reintroduce federal building security bill

Federal buildings across the country (but not necessarily the FBI headquarters) are guarded by the Federal Protective Service and its contract guards. (Rich Clement/BLOOMBERG)

The bill, reintroduced Monday by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and other members of their Senate homeland security committee, would bring big changes to the tiny Homeland Security agency responsible for protecting about 1 million federal employees and contractors working at 9,000 federal installations.

FPS earned widespread attention — and not the good kind — in 2009 when the Government Accountability Office smuggled bomb-making materials in to 10 major federal buildings, exposing serious problems with the agency’s training of the private security guards it employs.

“Poor management, serious budget shortfalls, and operational challenges have diminished” the agency, Lieberman said in a statement, recalling that the GAO investigation found FPS guards “sleeping on the job, putting an infant in its carrier through an X-ray machine,” and failing to detect the explosive devices.

“The agency must be turned around, which is why we are introducing this legislation to strengthen its management, provide it with the necessary resources to fulfill its mission, and help it function at a higher level,” Lieberman said.

Whether the bill has any hope of advancing remains to be seen. House and Senate versions failed to advance beyond the committee stages during the last Congress, and there’s been no effort thus far to reintroduce the measure in the GOP-controlled House.

According to Lieberman’s office, the bill, called the Supporting Employee Competency and Updating Readiness Enhancements for Facilities Act (SECURE Facilities Act), would:

• Allow FPS to hire another 150 full-time employees and no fewer than 1,200 employees at any time. (About 800 full-time federal inspectors — who carry the dual roles of law enforcement officer, supervisor and security planning specialist — are dispatched nationwide, overseeing about 15,000 private contract security guards who do most of the legwork at federal buildings.)

• The bill would require FPS to establish new training programs to review the work of contract guards and require the agency to retrain poor-performing guards.

• Require DHS to establish ways for FPS to track for explosives and similar threats at federal buildings. It also would increase the number of FPS canine teams, and allow FPS officers to carry firearms off duty. The firearm provision is a major victory for the FPS union, which has argued that FPS inspectors are unfairly hampered by current policies requiring them to check their weapons at the end of a shift.

• The bill would create an appeals process for federal building managers to contest the building security plans drafted by FPS inspectors. Some federal agencies have complained that FPS’s security plans unfairly stress security over public access.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.


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