The Government Accountability Office released a report detailing how investigators carried liquid bomb-making materials past security at 10 federal buildings in 10 cities.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Members of Congress on Wednesday blasted "disturbing" and "outrageous" security failures in the nation's federal buildings after government investigators smuggled bomb-making materials past the police agency charged with protecting those buildings.
The Government Accountability Office released a report detailing how investigators carried liquid bomb-making materials past security at 10 federal buildings in 10 cities -- a shocking exposure lawmakers said shows the country's vulnerability eight years after the attacks on the World Trade Center and 14 years after the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, blamed the Federal Protective Service Security for failing to provide adequate security and proper training to its 13,000 security guards during a hearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill. The agency, which is responsible for providing security at about 9,000 federal buildings around the country, has 1,200 full-time employees and roughly 13,000 contract guards.
"In short, GAO has found that the Federal Protective Service is not doing enough to make sure its 13,000 guards are qualified and trained for their jobs -- and doing what they're required to do," said Lieberman, who was joined by Susan Collins, R-Maine., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio.
Lieberman, I-Ct., said the GAO's probe included such troubling findings as a report that 73 percent of FPS contract guards lacked valid certifications and a report that one security guard allowed a baby to pass through an X-ray machine -- breaches in security he said make the country vulnerable to terrorist attack. Lieberman said the guard, who was later fired, filed a lawsuit and won after FPS could not provide sufficient proof that he had been properly trained. The GAO report found that a vast majority of security guards received no X-ray or metal detection training at all.
The undisclosed buildings at the center of the probe were all labeled "Security Level IV," or high-risk.
Collins said the report also found that the state of Maine has only two FPS inspectors to officiate over security at federal buildings and conduct the necessary inspection at the state's 24 points of entry.
"The findings of covert security tests conducted by GAO investigators are stunning and completely unacceptable. In post-9/11 America, I cannot fathom how security breaches of this magnitude were allowed to occur," said Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the committee. "These security lapses and others show a disturbing pattern by the Federal Protective Service of poor training, lapsed documentation, lax management, inconsistent enforcement of security standards and little rigor."
"We taxpayers are simply not receiving the security we pay for and should expect FPS to provide," she added.
The GAO found other problems with guard training and reported that in one check of security, investigators found a guard asleep on the job after taking the painkiller Percocet. In another, they found that a guard failed to recognize or did not properly X-ray a box carrying handguns at the loading dock of a facility.
"As we approach the eighth anniversary of 9/11, and 14 years after Oklahoma City, it is simply unacceptable that federal employees working within buildings under FPS' protection, and the visitors who pass through them, are so utterly exposed to potential attack by terrorists and other enemies," Lieberman said.
Gary Schenkel, director of the Federal Protective Service, said in prepared testimony that when he arrived at the agency in April 2007 "it was apparent FPS was experiencing some serious challenges."
Schenkel said after he learned of the GAO findings he instructed regional directors to increase their inspections and report what actions they would take to address and correct problems with contract guards.
Earlier government investigations have raised similar concerns about the quality of security provided to federal buildings. FPS currently has a budget of about $1 billion, 1,200 full-time employees and about 13,000 contract security guards.
The Washington Post first reported on the GAO probe Tuesday night on its Web site.
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