GAO: Security agency is making progress, but still falling short

The Federal Protective Service is making progress, but must fully implement security best practices to meet its mission, the Government Accountability Office reported on Wednesday.

According to GAO, the service's approach to protecting federal buildings has gaps in three key areas: allocating resources through risk assessments, leveraging technology and sharing information.

GAO acknowledged that FPS' influence on resource allocation is limited, since agencies ultimately make their own security decisions. FPS assesses risk and makes recommendations. "We have found that under this approach, the security equipment that FPS recommends and is responsible for acquiring, installing and maintaining may not be implemented if tenant agencies are unwilling to fund it," GAO said in its report.

The watchdog agency also concluded that FPS' building-by-building approach to risk management is outdated and the service should take a more comprehensive, strategic approach to ensure risks are being prioritized and mitigated.

FPS is developing a new risk management program, intended to be less subjective and time-consuming and incorporating a more efficient assessment tool. But that program will not be implemented fully until the end of fiscal 2011, and GAO said its development already has been delayed.

FPS has more control over leveraging technology, GAO found. Individual inspectors have considerable latitude to determine which technologies to recommend. GAO, however, says the inspectors lack sufficient training and guidance on how to assess the relative cost-effectiveness of technologies or how to determine the expected return on investment.

Until FPS completes its standardization of security equipment recommendations and acquisitions, inspectors will continue to make recommendations based on individual judgment and vendor information, GAO said.

Information sharing and coordination is another area that is critical to building security. The agency found that FPS and GSA have established communication channels at the top management levels, which is a positive step. But information sharing at the regional and building levels is inconsistent, and FPS and GSA disagree over what data should be shared.

FPS also is failing to live up to a number of agreements that have been made on information sharing, the report said. For example, a memorandum of agreement between the Homeland Security Department and GSA specifies that the Federal Protective Service will provide quarterly regional briefings, but FPS has failed to do so consistently. In October 2008, they resumed the practice but GSA says the briefings "did not constitute comprehensive threat analyses."

The watchdog agency expressed confidence that "FPS recognizes the importance of making progress in these areas."

The service "has improvements under way that could bring its activities more in line with the key practices and better equip FPS to address security vulnerabilities at GSA-controlled federal buildings," the report stated.

But without greater attention to these areas and quick implementation of new programs and procedures, GAO said FPS will be ill-equipped to efficiently and effectively fulfill its responsibilities of assessing risk, issuing recommendations, and sharing information with GSA and other agencies. GAO recommended that the Federal Protective Service report regularly to the DHS secretary on the status of new risk management and countermeasure activities; that the service develop a methodology and guidance for assessing and comparing the cost-effectiveness of technologies; and that it cooperate more with GSA to build consensus on criteria in building security assessments.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.