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Officers at Federal Facilities Lack Training

THE DEPARTMENT OF Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service (FPS) is responsible for safeguarding federal employees and visitors at approximately 9,600 federal government facilities, and contracts some 13,500 security officers to accomplish its mission. However, the FPS has significant weaknesses in its oversight of federal contracts when it comes to training security guards for activeshooter scenarios and x-ray scanner usage.

According to a report presented by Mark Goldstein, director of physical infrastructure issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), officials at five guard companies said that their contract guards had not received training on how to respond during incidents involving an active shooter. Goldstein presented the findings to a House Homeland Security subcommittee in a hearing that focused on protection of federal buildings in light of the September Washington Navy Yard shooting where government contractor Aaron Alexis killed 12 federal workers.

All officers from the 117 guard services the FPS works with are required to receive active-shooter training as part of their 120 hours of orientation before they are assigned to posts. The GAO asked 16 contract guard companies about activeshooter training. Eight of them said that this was received during the orientation, and five other companies stated that the FPS had not provided active-shooter scenario training during FPS orientation. Officials from the other three companies said that the FPS had not provided activeshooter training during orientation, but that the topic was covered later.

Because of the varied responses, the GAO was unable to determine the extent to which the FPS’s guards have received active-shooter response training and reported that the “FPS has limited assurance that its guards are prepared for this threat.”

The 31 guard company contracts that the GAO examined for its report were chosen based on geographic diversity and geographic density of contracts “within FPS regions to allow us to conduct file reviews for multiple contracts during each of four site visits” and interviews that the GAO conducted. Eleven of the contracts were reviewed along with random samples of guard files associated with each contract, and the remaining 20 were chosen because they were the most recent contracts as of November 2012.

FPS Director L. Eric Patterson also testified at the subcommittee hearing and said that the FPS is working to address the situation. He noted that in 2013, the agency had conducted 17,000 personnel file audits to make sure guards were receiving the required training. FPS has also hired more staff to oversee contracts and monitor performance.

However, the GAO said that the lack of training stems from the FPS’s lack of a comprehensive system for managing information on guards’ training, certifications, and qualifications, and affects not only activeshooter scenario training, but other training as well.

Officials from one of the FPS’s contract guard companies told the GAO that 133 of its approximately 350 guards have never received scanner training to properly use x-ray and magnetometer equipment. These pieces of equipment are used in many federal facilities to scan visitors’ belongings before they are allowed into the building. If guards aren’t properly trained to use the equipment, banned items—such as knives and firearms—could be brought into the building.

The GAO first brought this problem to the FPS’s attention in 2009 and 2010 when it reported that the FPS hadn’t provided screener training to 1,500 guards in one FPS region. “In response… FPS stated that it planned to implement a program to train its inspectors to provide screener training to all of its contract guards,” the report reads. “However, three years after our 2010 report, guards continue to be deployed to federal facilities who have never received this training.”

The FPS also told the GAO in response to earlier reports that it would develop a comprehensive and reliable system for managing information on guards’ training, certifications, and qualifications. However, the FPS still doesn’t have such a system, and 23 percent of the 276 guard files the GAO examined during its most recent investigation lacked required training and certification documentation. Some of the items missing from guards’ files were documentation of initial weapons and screener training and firearms qualifications.

In addition, the GAO reports that the FPS doesn’t use a methodology to assess risk at federal facilities that aligns with the Interagency Security Committee’s (ISC) risk assessment standards. The ISC’s standards require risk assessments to “consider all of the undesirable events identified by ISC as possible risks to federal facilities, and… assess the threat, vulnerability, and consequence of specific undesirable events.” Federal agencies pay the FPS millions of dollars to assess risk at their facilities, but its risk assessment tool is not consistent with ISC’s standards because it does not assess consequences, such as “the level, duration, and nature of loss resulting from undesirable events,” the report said.

As a result, the government probably lacks a complete understanding of the risks facing federal facilities located around the country, including the 9,600 protected by the FPS, the report states.

-By Megan Gates, assistant editor