Among other roles, the GSA operates as the government’s landlord on behalf of other agencies. There are about 100 child-care centers in GSA-managed buildings, with a total of about 7,500 children enrolled.
Federal employees get priority for spaces in the centers but they also are open to the general public, whose children account for about a third of enrollments. The Defense Department has a separate child-care system at facilities it controls, which the auditors did not examine.
Federal building security policies, including some specific to child-care centers, were toughened after the 1995 bombing by a domestic terrorist of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, in which 168 people were killed, including children who were in the building’s child-care center.
An Interagency Security Committee — now led by the Department of Homeland Security — oversees those standards, which are restricted to federal security personnel. In individual buildings, security committees of officials from tenant agencies decide on potential changes, which those agencies would have to fund.
However, the report says that “many of the recommended security countermeasures have not been implemented,” some of which “directly affected the safety of the child care centers in those buildings.”
It said that in some cases, the local committees did not carry them out “due to lack of funding.”
The GSA told the auditors that it does not independently make changes that those committees have not approved. However, the report said that the GSA has the authority “to independently take the actions necessary to address vulnerabilities affecting the child care centers. Otherwise, GSA is accepting the risk caused by not implementing the available countermeasures.”
Auditors said that the GSA can reprogram existing money to make such alterations within limits and that it could ask Congress for funds to make more extensive changes. The GSA “should consider making use of its authorities to fund — or request funding for — alterations to GSA-controlled buildings to ensure child care centers meet minimum security standards,” the report said.
A GSA spokesperson said in an email that the agency “believes nothing is more important than the safety of our children. We intend to use all our legal authorities to address the problems raised, and believe the report will help us more effectively partner with the tenant committees who help us prioritize improvements, Congress, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service.”
The spokesperson said the GSA has taken steps to address several of the issues and is “developing a comprehensive corrective action plan, which includes a more detailed review of security assessments for each location. In cases where vulnerabilities cannot be resolved, decisions to re-locate or close a child care center may be made on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with the appropriate parties.”