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GAO report finds there may be too many agencies securing public transit

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Securing our nation's mass transit systems seems like a nearly impossible task and there's certainly no silver bullet for protecting the traveling public. A new report issued by the Government Accountability Office in July found that there are a number of promising explosives detection technologies out there, but also noted there are serious limitations that need to be addressed for proper deployment in a rail environment.

The report found that handheld, desktop, and kit-based trace detection systems, x-ray imaging systems, as well as the use of canines, are all technologies that have demonstrated good detection capabilities, but did not recommend any of these technologies specifically.

One of the concerns in securing ground transportation is passenger flow. It's fairly understood that passengers on New York's subway system, for example, are not going to tolerate major interruptions of their commute. Therefore, the government needs to find technologies that can detect explosives, but do not impede on passenger flow. For this, the GAO recommends the development of a concept of operations that "would help balance security with the need to maintain the efficient and free flowing movement of people. A concept of operations could include a response plan for how rail employees should react to an alarm when a particular technology detects an explosive."

The GAO also reported that in implementing these technologies and policies there are possibly too many organizations involved in this effort:

While there is a shared responsibility for securing the passenger rail environment, the federal government, including TSA, and passenger rail operators have differing roles, which could complicate decisions to fund and implement explosives detection technologies. For example, TSA provides guidance and some funding for passenger rail security, but rail operators themselves provide day-to-day-security of their systems.

TSA seems to be taking a bigger role in securing surface transportation. Secretary Napolitano recently announced the agency (and its new head) will focus more of its efforts on securing mass transit. It recently launched a national "See Something, Say Something" campaign, but no specifics on the technology side.

GAO report not exactly good news for Pistole's first day on the job

Thursday, July 1, 2010

On the day that John Pistole gets sworn in as the head of the Transportation Security Administration, the Government Accountability Office issued a report that the agency may have considerable difficulties meeting the August 2010 deadline for 100 percent cargo screening.

The report cites that shipper participation in the voluntary screening program has been lower than targeted by the TSA, which means (I'm assuming) that the TSA is having to screen the majority of cargo, rather than having it pre-screened at Certified Cargo Screening Facilities.

These difficulties are likely due to the fact that the TSA can't seem to figuring out what kind of technology it should use to screen cargo:

"There is no technology approved by TSA to screen large pallets or containers of cargo, which suggests the need for alternative approaches to screening such cargo," read the report.

The report also found that TSA has not completed a staffing study to determine the number of inspectors it needs to oversee this screening program. This is going to be yet one more review that Pistole will have to order, along with an evaluation of technology usage, TSO training procedures, and intelligence-gathering strategies.

Overall, the report determined that the TSA will be unable to meet the August 2010 deadline and does not have a contingency plan about what it will do if it can't meet the mandate:

Several of these challenges suggest the need for a contingency plan, in case the agency’s current initiatives are not successful in meeting the mandate without impeding the flow of commerce. However, TSA has not developed such a plan. Addressing these issues could better position TSA to meet the mandate.

Good luck in your new position, Pistole. You're going to need it.

Guards fail to keep guns out of government buildings

Thursday, April 15, 2010

One might assume that the government has it under control when it comes to keeping weapons out of its facilities, right? Well, apparently it just ain't so.

The Government Accountability Office just released a report that guards allowed prohibited items -- such as guns, knives and bombs -- into federal facilities two-thirds of the time in tests conducted by the Federal Protective Service, according to this Washington Post piece.

Maybe you missed that figure: Two-thirds of the time. Wow.

And it gets worse. The article says that guards also didn't seem to know what to do when they managed to stop a tester who was trying to sneak in some contraband. Didn't know what to do? I haven't taken any guard training courses, but I'm pretty sure the key is not to let them in.

The article blames some of these issues on the fact that many of the guards are contracted and that the Federal Protective Service (they're the agency in charge of the guards and conducted the tests) hasn't done a good job of tracking training and regulations for guards. Here are a few highlights for your reading pleasure:

-- Some contractors didn't comply with the terms of their contracts, and the FPS took no action against them. The GAO said the agency did nothing to seven contract companies who employed guards with expired certification and training requirements.

-- The agency apparently can't determine which guards have complied with requirements because, the report says, "FPS currently does not have a fully reliable system for monitoring and verifying whether its 15,000 guards have the certifications and training to stand post at federal facilities."

-- The FPS doesn't always evaluate guards properly. Not only did the seven contractors escape any sanction for not fulfilling the terms of their contracts, but the FPS also gave them ratings of satisfactory or better.

-- The FPS hasn't provided some guards with the required training on X-ray or magnetometer machines that are used to detect weapons. In July 2009, the GAO reported that 1,500 guards had not received the 16 hours of required training. As of February, they still had not, according to the GAO, although the FPS says they will by December.

Of course, the report doesn't name any of the contractors, but I would be interested to know because they certainly aren't making those in the guarding industry look very good. Shame on them.

I was only resting my eyes

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Did you see this?

Plainclothes investigators sent to test security at federal buildings in four U.S. cities were successful in smuggling bomb components through guard posts at all 10 of the sites they visited, according to a government report.

And this is the picture CNN ran with the story:

Here's more:

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, conducted the tests to check on the effectiveness of the Federal Protective Service .The FPS protects federal buildings by having about 1,200 federal law enforcement officers oversee an army of 13,000 private security guards.

The GAO also released a photograph of a guard asleep at his post and detailed an instance in which a woman placed an infant in a carrier on an X-ray machine while retrieving identification. Because the guard was not paying attention and the machine's safety features had been disabled, the infant was sent through the X-ray machine, according to the report.

The FPS dismissed the guard, who, as a result, sued the agency for failing to provide X-ray training. FPS lost the suit because it could not prove that the guard had been trained, the report says.

All of the buildings involved in the test were "Level IV" buildings, meaning they housed more than 450 federal employees and have a high volume of public contact. The GAO has declined to identify the specific buildings "because of the sensitivity of some of the information in our report," the report says.

Is this a training problem, a job hazard or a contract guard issue? You can read the full article here. Would love to hear your thoughts. (Comment field is below. I know you want to click on it. Go ahead, it won't bite.)

I bet he wished he had taken some Vivarin or had about 10 cups of coffee.

GAO evaluates FPS

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

News of a report from the GAO hit the wires this week. I haven't been able to find the official GAO report (I've been too busy reading Sam's blog from Israel), but here is a story from Government Executive:

The Federal Protective Service's budget shortfalls and shrinking workforce could threaten the physical security of government buildings, according to preliminary findings from the Government Accountability Office.

FPS, the agency charged with providing physical security and law enforcement services to approximately 8,800 facilities owned or leased by the General Services Administration, was transferred in 2003 from GSA to the Homeland Security Department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau. Since then, FPS has faced multi-million dollar funding shortages and ensuing management challenges.

Traditionally, FPS was able to make up its budget deficit through GSA's Federal Buildings Fund. But now, as a part of Homeland Security, FPS no longer can tap into that fund and has had to scramble to cover operational expenses and implement cost-cutting measures.

Faced with a projected revenue shortfall of $70 million for fiscal 2006, FPS restricted hiring and employee travel, limited training and overtime, and eliminated employee performance awards as belt-tightening measures. But GAO said these steps ultimately could hinder the service's ability to meet its mission.

Since fiscal 2004, FPS workforce has declined 20 percent, standing at about 1,100 by the end of fiscal 2007. The Bush administration's fiscal 2009 budget request recommended the agency reduce its workforce by 150 people. President Bush included the same recommendation in his fiscal 2008 budget, but Congress rejected it. A House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee said the administration's current proposal would leave 50 cities without any FPS presence and would eliminate night and weekend protective services and response capability.

FPS has hired about 15,000 contract guards to monitor facilities it cannot cover. Lawmakers and FPS officials, however, expressed concern that there was inadequate oversight of these private security guards. The GAO found that FPS inspectors charged with overseeing contract guards were struggling to meet oversight responsibilities while juggling building security assessments and responses to criminal incidents. FPS officials also indicated to GAO that contract guards were poorly trained and reluctant to act in emergency situations. Goldstein said a separate review on the contract guard program will begin soon.

FPS said it is filling holes in facility protection through increased reliance on local law enforcement, but GAO disputed this strategy. The service has not signed any agreements yet with local law enforcement agencies for extra assistance, or formally authorized local police to respond to incidents at federal facilities. And local officials told GAO they were unaware of such agreements, that they lacked the capacity to take on that responsibility, and would refuse to sign any agreement requiring them to do so.

GAO did not make recommendations in the preliminary evaluation, but will likely do so in May, when the complete report is expected. ICE did not return calls for comment, but reviewed a draft of the GAO testimony and agreed with the agency's conclusions.

Would have loved to see some direct quotes from a FPS or DHS spokesperson here (the reporter does have a byline on the story — normally means they spoke to someone directly not just regurgitated a report's findings although I'm not sure here.) But check out the comments below the story ... pretty interesting. A guard asleep and a corpse round out the details, or so it seems.