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Watchdog Highlights Security Vulnerabilities at Federal Child Care Centers

IG says in some cases, a lack of funding stalled fixes that would have made facilities safer.

The General Services Administration Office of the Inspector General last week reported that it had found a number of security vulnerabilities at child care centers housed on federal property, in some cases because officials said they lacked funding to implement fixes.

In a heavily redacted report released Jan. 30, the watchdog said it identified “significant security vulnerabilities” at all 11 child care centers it tested as part of a security audit.

“We found child care centers in GSA-controlled buildings that do not meet the minimum security standards,” the inspector general wrote. “We also found child care centers in buildings that are or may be at risk. Finally, we found that many of the recommended security countermeasures have not been implemented.”

Although GSA already has the authority to upgrade its buildings to meet security standards as needed, upgrades require approval. The inspector general said in many cases, buildings’ interagency Facility Security Committees refused to sign off on countermeasures for child care centers. GSA officials said that the decision not to make the upgrades sometimes came down to a lack of funding.

“[The Homeland Security Department] told us that the [security committees] declined to implement these countermeasures at all . . . locations due to lack of funding in some cases, and GSA officials told us during the audit that the agency does not implement countermeasures that the FSCs have not approved,” the inspector general wrote. “[GSA] officials subsequently acknowledged that nothing legally prohibits GSA from implementing security countermeasures without [the committees'] approval.”

GSA said that while the agency may tap the Federal Buildings Fund, a revolving fund for real property management, it generally does not move forward with upgrades not approved by facility security councils.

“GSA officials also stated that large scale implementation of these countermeasures without [council] approval would affect the long-term solvency of the [fund] because [GSA’s Public Buildings Service] would not be able to pass the cost of these measures to the tenant agencies through rental rates,” the report stated.

The inspector general noted there are other ways GSA may fund implementation of security countermeasures at child care centers in federal buildings: allocating appropriated funds for alterations, provided the cost does not exceed “the prospectus threshold;” requesting additional funding from Congress; and transferring unobligated budget balances, also with congressional approval.

“According to the PBS commissioner’s written comments to our draft report, ‘PBS has a repair and alterations backlog of nearly $7 billion, and since fiscal 2011, Congress has underfunded GSA’s repairs and alterations accounts by approximately $3.5 billion,’” the inspector general wrote. “While we recognize PBS’s funding challenges, responsibility to manage the resources of the [Federal Buildings Fund], and competing priorities, it is not unprecedented for Congress to specifically authorize GSA to use the [buildings fund] for security upgrades to its buildings.”

The watchdog agency issued three recommendations: ensure federal facilities’ child care centers are “in safe locations that meet minimum security standards;” address specific vulnerabilities addressed in the redacted portion of the report; and conduct a comprehensive assessment of security vulnerabilities at every child care center in a GSA-controlled building.

GSA concurred with all recommendations, and stated it has already begun an assessment of all child care centers’ security vulnerabilities.

“GSA is committed to addressing the proposed countermeasures where we are responsible for decision making and funding, and will work with sponsoring agencies to facilitate action to fund and implement upgrades that they are responsible for,” wrote Public Buildings Service Commissioner Daniel Mathews.