GSA battles effort to boost the Federal Protective Service

The General Services Administration is battling efforts to strengthen an agency that it oversees.

GSA is opposing a bill sponsored by Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, that would remove the Federal Protective Service from beneath the jurisdiction of the General Service Administration's Public Building Service (PBS). Traficant is pushing to see his proposal for strengthening FPS attached to the omnibus budget bill expected to emerge from Congress this fall.

The bill, H.R. 809, would install a commissioner who would report directly to GSA's Administrator. It would also increase the pay, duties and size of the force. Traficant's goal is to transform FPS into, "an elite federal law enforcement agency."

Traficant, whose law enforcement interest stems from a four-year stint as sheriff of Ohio's Mahoning County, first filed the bill in 1998, citing the bombing of Oklahoma's Murrah Federal Building as evidence that a stronger federal protective presence is needed. Critics contend that preventing terrorism is beyond the scope of GSA's powers and is better left to agencies like the CIA.

Agency officials dispute the benefits of the bill, saying that unexpected complications could arise if it passes. The agency has prepared a position paper outlining its opposition to the bill. Among the arguments is that the current arrangement, in which FPS works directly with building managers, allows the agency to meet the specific needs of each individual federal building. Separating FPS out could prove troublesome to intraagency law enforcement efforts as well, GSA said.

"Separating the Service from PBS would critically undermine the Service's ability to meet its core mission," the position paper said. "While the Administration supports efforts to strengthen security in public buildings, it believes that the proposed changes...would significantly reduce the effectiveness of ongoing Federal security initiatives."

Traficant shepherded the proposal to passage in the lower branch earlier this year. Now he'd like to see the bill included as a rider to the appropriations bill to be negotiated when Congress returns from its August recess, despite the fact that it has yet to receive a Senate committee hearing.

Traficant has lined up at least one powerful ally to his cause.

"Senator [Ted] Stevens (R-Ark., Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and chief Senate negotiator for the budget talks) strongly supports the bill," said Paul Marcone, Traficant's chief of staff.

Marcone dismisses GSA's reservations about intraagency coordination, pointing to the longstanding partnership between the federal court system and the United States Marshals Service that provides its security as evidence that such partnerships can work.

"By ranting and raving that the bill would harm security, PBS is tacitly admitting that they aren't as capable as the courts (of managing such a partnership)," noted the chief of staff.

Traficant's prospects for successfully navigating the end-of-session rush are murky. A spokesman for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said that no action has been scheduled for H.R. 809 so far and reaffirmed the preference of Chairman Robert Smith, R-N.H., to see bills acted on through the committee process rather than in the form of budget riders.

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