The Federal Protective Service (FPS) and the General Services Administration (GSA), the two agencies charged with protection of federal facilities, have made “limited progress” in improving collaboration, which may be putting these facilities at risk, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
FPS has primary responsibility for protecting federal facilities held or leased by GSA and their occupants. GSA serves as the federal government’s “landlord” by designing, building, and managing these facilities and fixing security issues. Both agencies conduct policy making and high-level planning at the headquarters level.
“FPS and GSA are very different agencies with different cultures, approaches to staff training, and perspectives on their missions,” GAO’s report stated. “Nevertheless, their related missions regarding facility protection require them to collaborate at all levels—agency headquarters, regional, and facility levels.”
GAO asserts that FPS and GSA have taken steps to improve collaboration in the past year, including by drafting a joint strategy and working to update the 2006 MOA that outlines FPS’s and GSA’s facility security roles and responsibilities. However, the two agencies have not reached a final agreement.
The auditors determined that without articulating the common federal outcome or purpose they are seeking to achieve, the agencies will be unable to substantially improve their collaborative efforts.
For example, FPS officials told GAO that GSA did not coordinate with them on new construction intended for law enforcement tenants, and as a result, it was not suitable for law enforcement use. GSA officials told GAO that they did not have sufficient information from FPS about security plans for upcoming events and, therefore, were not able to inform tenants of necessary security measures.
“Without working to strengthen these key collaboration practices, FPS and GSA risk their ability to meet their mission to adequately identify and address serious security risks,” the report stated.
GAO made four recommendations to improve collaboration between FPS and GSA. The recommendations include:
- FPS and GSA headquarters officials should establish a plan with timeframes for reaching agreement on a joint strategy and finalizing it in order to define and articulate a common understanding of expected outcomes and align the two agencies’ activities and core processes to achieve their related missions;
- FPS and GSA headquarters officials should establish a plan with timeframes for reaching agreement on the two agencies’ respective roles and responsibilities for federal facility security, and update and finalize the two agencies’ MOA accordingly;
- FPS and GSA headquarters officials should develop a process to ensure that compatible policies and procedures, including those for information sharing, are communicated at the regional level so that regional officials at both agencies have common information on how to operationalize the two agencies’ collaborative efforts; and
- FPS and GSA headquarters officials should develop mechanisms to monitor, evaluate, and report on their collaborative efforts to protect federal facilities in order to identify possible areas for improvement and to reinforce accountability.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concurred with GAO’s recommendations, and GSA agreed to work with FPS to address the findings.
GAO noted they and others have identified the physical security of federal facilities as “an area facing on-going challenges.” For example, last year, Homeland Security Today reported on another GAO audit revealing that FPS continues to experience a range of challenges in their efforts to provide effective security screening at federal buildings.
“This report is another in a line of many which show that FPS is lagging in ensuring our federal facilities across the nation are properly secured,” commented Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security who requested the GAO audit. “We need to ensure that record keeping and testing procedures are properly uniform and robust. This is the only way to access security performance and therefore improve security screening.”
Another report issued by GAO last year discovered that DHS is unprepared to address the increasing vulnerability of federal facilities to cyber attacks. The auditors said attack of these facilities could “compromise security countermeasures, hamper agencies’ ability to carry out their missions, or cause physical harm to the facilities and their occupants.”
“Federal facilities contain building and access control systems—computers that monitor and control building operations such as elevators, electrical power, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning—that are increasingly being connected to other information systems and the Internet,” GAO said.
A cyber expert told GAO these systems were not designed with cybersecurity in mind.
This is also not the first time collaboration between FPS and GSA has been addressed by GAO. In a March 2012 report, FPS lacked complete data from GSA on the jurisdiction of about one-third of the facilities it protects. Consequently, GAO recommended that GSA ensures data is provided to FPS so that it can better manage its jurisdictional roles and responsibilities at GSA facilities.
“We have reported on FPS’s and GSA’s difficulty collaborating in areas including sharing information and clearly defining roles and responsibilities,” GAO stated in its most recent report. “To the extent that collaboration affects these agencies’ ability to adequately protect facilities, security may be compromised.”
GAO said GSA has made progress on this issue.