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The watchdog agency also concluded that FPS' building-by-building approach to risk management is outdated and the service should take a more comprehensive, strategic approach to ensure risks are being prioritized and mitigated.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

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


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