Homeland Security replaces head of Federal Protective Service

The Homeland Security Department this week announced that it will replace the head of the Federal Protective Service after several critical investigative reports found major gaps in the security of government facilities.

Gary Schenkel, who has served as director of FPS since March 2007, told his staff on Tuesday that in early June he will move to a DHS policy office where he will serve as acting deputy assistant secretary for state and local law enforcement.

"It is with great sadness that I announce my departure from the Federal Protective Service," Schenkel wrote in an e-mail to FPS employees. "For the past three-plus years I have been privileged and honored to lead this outstanding organization through many challenges and triumphs."

A retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, Schenkel previously served as assistant federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration at Chicago Midway Airport.

In his new role, Schenkel will support "a key initiative of the secretary's to bolster relationships with our critical partners in law enforcement," said Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa.

FPS Deputy Director Paul Durette will serve as the agency's acting director until a permanent leader is hired. An open executive search to fill the position began immediately, Kudwa said.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, urged the department to move swiftly to find a new director. "FPS needs assertive leadership to overcome its well-documented shortcomings and to ensure that federal buildings are secure, and the senator will soon introduce legislation to strengthen the agency's capabilities," Lieberman's office said in a statement.

The federal labor union that represents FPS employees said it was anxious to begin a new chapter at the agency. "There is much work that lies ahead and strong, positive and effective leadership is essential at this critical time for FPS," said David Wright, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 918. The union urged DHS to "select a well-qualified law enforcement professional who can balance the equally important law enforcement and protection missions of FPS."

Lawmakers stressed that Schenkel's departure does not solve several unresolved issues at FPS. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thomson, D-Miss., said he wants more information on the estimated completion date for the new Risk Assessment and Management Program to monitor the performance, training and certification of contract guards; the lack of a strategic plan at FPS and the cost of relying on a private sector guard force.

"Until these issues are resolved our federal buildings and the federal employees who work in them remain vulnerable," Thompson said. "As the department looks for a new FPS director, it must continue to move forward with renewal and reform at this beleaguered agency."

Schenkel's management of FPS has come under intense scrutiny in recent months after a series of Government Accountability Office reports questioned whether the agency's contract guard force was capable of securing federal buildings. In April, GAO reported that undercover agents were able to slip fake guns, knives and bombs past guards in federal facilities. A July 2009 GAO report found similar failures with FPS contract guards.

In response, FPS increased its number of unannounced inspections, required additional magnetometer training and conducted more thorough reviews of contract guard qualifications.

FPS currently is conducting an internal staffing analysis to determine the feasibility of insourcing some or all of the contract guard workforce. The agency has an annual budget of roughly $1 billion, and employs 1,225 full-time workers and 15,000 contract security guards at more than 2,300 federal facilities nationwide.

GAO also has criticized the agency's longtime workforce plan, its use of disparate technology and inconsistent information sharing with the General Services Administration.

But, in his letter to staff, Schenkel stressed only the agency's accomplishments.

"We were able to define our role in the Department of Homeland Security and strategically develop the tactics, techniques, tools, technologies and procedures necessary to get the Federal Protective Service the recognition it so richly deserves," Schenkel wrote. "As your director, I take no credit. I have always only been able to report on your accomplishments and successes."

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