Senate bill aims to reform Federal Protective Service

After years of oversight hearings and major personnel changes, reform could be on the way for the Federal Protective Service.

On Monday, a bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers introduced a bill that would beef up the staff at FPS -- an agency within the Homeland Security Department responsible for providing security at 9,000 federal buildings -- and strengthen oversight of 15,000 contract guards.

"FPS is essentially a dysfunctional agency whose mission is in grave peril," said the bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "Budget shortfalls, mismanagement and multiple operational challenges have taken their toll on the agency, making it a prime candidate for reform."

The Senate bill would authorize FPS to establish governmentwide training requirements for all armed guards, including at least 80 hours of instruction before a guard can be deployed, and at least 16 hours of recurrent training on an annual basis.

Performance-based training standards also would be created for all security employees to detect explosives and other threats at building checkpoints, according to the bill. Procedures would be developed for retraining or terminating ineffective guards. And a database would be generated to monitor the performance of all contracts for guard services.

The legislation addresses persistent staffing concerns at FPS by authorizing funding to hire 500 new full-time employees during the next four years. The agency would be mandated to employ at least 1,350 full-time employees, including at least 950 in-service field staff by fiscal 2011. Those numbers would grow to 1,700 full-time staffers and 1,125 in-service guards by fiscal 2014.

"The hiring of additional FPS law enforcement personnel is long overdue," said David Wright, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 918, the union representing FPS employees. He noted the staffing increase is the minimal amount needed, but the union supports additional personnel allocation studies.

In a change long supported by the union, FPS officers would be allowed to carry firearms while off duty, a right afforded to most other law enforcement officials. The weapons provision, however, was not included in a similar FPS reform bill introduced in the House last week.

The Senate legislation, which could be folded into the annual Homeland Security Authorization bill, also would allow agencies to file an appeal if they believe FPS security measures are unduly hindering public access to federal facilities. In addition, agencies could submit a request to provide their own building security.

The biggest potential change, however, could still be a while off. The Senate bill would require FPS to hire a private consultant to study the effectiveness of federalizing some or all contract security guards. A final report, with recommendations and cost estimates, would be issued within a year of the bill's passage. The House version of the bill would task the Government Accountability Office with the federalization analysis.

The 2010 SECURE Facilities Act is co-sponsored by the committee's ranking member Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.; Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia Chairman Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; and Subcommittee Ranking Member George Voinovich, R-Ohio.

In an April report from the Government Accountability Office, the watchdog reported that undercover agents were able to slip fake guns, knives and bomb-making materials past contract guards at 10 high-security facilities. The guards had not received mandatory X-ray and magnetometer training, GAO found. The agents then assembled the improvised explosive device in a public restroom, and were able wander the halls of the building.

In another incident, a contract guard accidentally sent an infant in a baby carrier through an X-ray machine. The agency fired the guard, but a court later reversed the decision when it was learned the employee had not received X-ray training.

A month after the April report was released, DHS replaced Gary Schenkel, who had served as FPS director since March 2007.

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