First of all, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) wants to reassure federal workers and visitors to federal buildings, “there’s no alarm bells or anything like that.” Investigating problems that have led to security vulnerabilities, said the chairman, “is just what we do as part of our oversight responsibility on the Homeland Security Committee.”
Federal employees are safe in the workplace, Thompson told Federal News Radio. His goal is to find out if they can be safer.
One of the options we’re exploring is whether or not security can be better if the Federal Protective Service entire force is federalized. We have less than a thousand sworn federal officers in the Federal Protective Service now, but we have over 15,000 contract workers as security guards. And over the last few years we’ve had a number of breaches and so as part of our oversight responsibility on the committee, we are looking into how we can best secure several thousand federal buildings around the United States.
One of the issues being raised is the effect of outsourcing on the overall security of federal buildings. Thompson said there are already “a number of buildings, federal facilities, manned by federal law enforcement officers. We’re already in the business. The question is, with this outsourcing of so much of the federal protective labor force, has this not created a vulnerability and we’re continuing to look at that.”
Thompson pointed to a GAO report this week saying there are “missteps going on, especially in the contract worker force.” In six of eight security tests that GAO ran as part of that study, said Thompson, “the contract performance was less than satisfactory.”
The committee heard about both the performance and training of the contractors. Both of left a bit to be desired.
What we are saying to the federal protective service (is that) if you can’t do a better job of overseeing the contract component of building security, then one of the options that we will look at whether or not we will federalize the entire federal protective force. One of the challenges is the cost, but if you look at it, our most secure buildings here in Washington, for instance, (are) handled by a federalized protective force.
After three hearings by the committee on the subject the chairman told the Federal Drive “we have some things we have to work on. There’s no question about it. And we emphasized to the director of the Federal Protective Service (Gary Schenkel) yesterday that this is his job. He has a professional staff. They have to manage and supervise all of the security in all of the federal buildings in the country and we won’t accept anything less. So we put the burden squarely back on the director’s shoulders, where it should be, and just because they’ve outsourced a significant amount of the work is no reason to outsource the responsibility and oversight vested in the Federal Protective Service.”
Thompson said the committee is satisfied Director Schenkel understands the problems. The question now becomes whether the situation can improve.
We want to give the department an opportunity to demonstrate that they can do better. If they can, then our legislation won’t be as onerous as it potentially could be. If they don’t demonstrate it, then one of the options is just to say “look, federal employees do a better job of protecting federal buildings, therefore the workforce should be federalized.” That’s the most extreme legislation.
In the meantime, Thompson reiterated that “again, there’s no reason for alarm. Everything’s fine. But this is just part of our oversight responsibility.”