Lawmakers skeptical of planned Federal Protective Service cuts

Members of a House committee on Tuesday questioned a proposal to eliminate 249 police officers from the Federal Protective Service.

At a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee, lawmakers expressed concern that the Homeland Security Department's plan to establish a "refocused workforce" at FPS, composed mainly of inspectors and contract security guards, would leave federal facilities more vulnerable.

Lawmakers asked FPS Director Gary Schenkel for assurance that the proposal would enable the service to effectively protect federal buildings, even amid the budget shortfalls the agency has faced since moving from the General Services Administration to DHS when it was established in 2003. In the transition, FPS lost $139 million in subsidies from GSA; the service now relies entirely on fees collected from customer agencies.

Shenkel told committee members the department can effectively protect federal buildings with the proposed workforce. Contract guards "will deter and provide an effective means for responding to immediate situations," he said, "but they still will require the services of a sworn law enforcement officer."

The FPS chief argued that the contract guards, who hold no more authority than an average citizen to make an arrest, would be the first line of defense, while inspectors, who hold officer status, would remain on site at facilities deemed high risk.

But according to David Wright, president of an American Federation of Government Employees local representing FPS employees, inspectors are responsible for conducting studies and making minor repairs to security systems, and have little time for the patrol duties of an FPS officer.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., agreed that inspectors have a much different role than FPS officers, who are responsible for interrogating suspects, preventing crimes, arresting offenders and assisting police during emergency situations.

Lawmakers also stressed their concern about oversight of contractors. DHS Deputy Inspector General Jim Taylor noted reports from his office and the Government Accountability Office that found numerous deficiencies with contract guard qualifications and FPS oversight of these guards.

The audit reports concluded that some of the guards were working without current suitability determinations or with expired certifications. Some lacked the appropriate security clearances and others were noncitizens who did not have work cards with them, Taylor said.

"Inadequate contractor oversight can result in the government paying for services it did not receive, loss of monies resulting from contract deductions due to nonperformance, and placing FPS-protected facilities, employees and facility visitors at risk," Taylor said.

Schenkel said the lack of oversight was largely due to staffing problems, and assured the committee that FPS was making the necessary improvements to ensure its contract security guards met all of the appropriate requirements.

Meanwhile, FPS' proposal also includes a plan to increase the user fee charged to client agencies from 39 cents to 57 cents per square foot, in an attempt to recover estimated costs for providing basic security services. At a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing last month, lawmakers questioned whether FPS should be changed from a fee-based organization to one with its own budget.

Wright recommended that appropriators provide an additional $38 million for FPS in fiscal 2008. He also recommended that the appropriations committees initiate a reprogramming request to DHS that would stop attrition by adequately funding FPS through the end of fiscal 2007.

"The administration has said more times than I can count that we are doing all we can to protect the nation against terrorists and terrorism," Wright said. "I doubt anyone could honestly call this FPS plan 'doing all we can.'"

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