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Federal Protective Service struggles with new management tools

Nine months into job, director hasn’t implemented GAO recommendations on training and tracking guard assignments.

The long-troubled Federal Protective Service, which some consider a "stepchild" within the Homeland Security Department, has made little progress in improving training of building security guards and has not fully implemented management tools for tracking assignments, witnesses told a House panel Wednesday.

Director L. Eric Patterson said FPS' four-year effort to develop a long-recommended centralized tool for prioritizing threats to federal buildings "was not cost-effective and has not fulfilled its original goals." The contractor for the tool, known as the Risk Assessment Management Program, has been relieved of future development duties but will continue working with the agency to maintain databases, Patterson told a hearing of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies.

FPS, a 40-year-old agency recently moved from DHS' Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to its National Protection and Programs Directorate, has long been targeted for reforms, has undergone multiple leadership changes and has prompted debate over whether some of its largely contractor workforce should be federalized.

This March, the agency was embarrassed when an improvised explosive device was discovered near the McNamara Federal Building in Detroit. An FPS security officer three weeks earlier had simply moved the suspicious package inside to the lost and found.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Daniel Lungren, R-Calif., called the hearing to "examine several perennial problems which have impacted the FPS mission," including poor management, weaknesses in oversight of the agency's 13,000 contract security guards and the need for enhanced training of guards.

In defending his agency, Patterson noted that FPS provides building security at 9,000 federal facilities in 50 states, through whose portals 1 million people pass each day. He reported that FPS security forces on average make 1,600 arrests and confiscate 700,000 dangerous objects annually.

He said in his first nine months on the job, he established an important code of conduct for employees, and that his response to the dangerous incident in Detroit was to send in a mobilized training team and launch an audit of the responsible contractor, which was fined. The guard who failed to promptly process what was later revealed as a pipe bomb was terminated.

But testimony by Mark Goldstein, director of physical infrastructure at the Government Accountability Office, faulted FPS for being slow to develop a systematic risk management approach to prioritizing threats and vulnerabilities in buildings. He said the agency has not addressed key human capital issues or figured out the optimal size for its workforce, does not collect sufficient data on contractors and has not reviewed the structure of the fees it charges agencies for service. "Of 28 recommendations the GAO has made since 2007," he said, FPS has fully implemented none and has begun to address only 21.

Patterson agreed on the need for risk management, saying, "Not all threats are the same, and not all vulnerabilities the same. They should be assessed independently of one another." As for implementing RAMP, he acknowledged some "challenges in antiquated methods of collecting data," but predicted the project should start to move soon.

Several members, including full committee ranking member Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., encouraged House passage of H.R. 176, a bill aimed at improving oversight and launching a study on federalization of more FPS contract guards.

But Steve Amitay, legislative counsel of the National Association of Security Companies, said industry opposed any move toward federalization and added contractors maintain a good relationship with FPS.

Representatives of federal workers backed the bill. "The time for reports and hearings is past," said David Wright, president of the National Federal Protective Service Union, American Federation of Government Employees. He called for passage of H.R. 176 and a similar bill pending in the Senate, arguing that contract guards are not as well trained as federal employees and that FPS is the "only law enforcement organization in Homeland Security that has less staff than it had at DHS' inception."