The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Federal Protective Service (FPS) and Department of Justice’s (DOJ) United States Marshals Service (USMS) experience a range of challenges in their efforts to provide effective security screening, according to a 48-page Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit report released last week.
FPS and USMS conduct building security screening at thousands of General Services Administration (GSA) buildings across the country.
Coinciding with the GAO audit report’s release, Rep. André Carson (Ind.) introduced two bills that would make improvements to the security at federal facilities and extend law enforcement retirement coverage to FPS officers.
GAO recommended FPS and USMS “each develop and implement a strategy for using covert and intrusion testing and prohibited items data to improve security-screening efforts.”
“Specifically, for FPS,” GAO said, “the strategy would, among other things, help determine which covert testing scenarios to use. For USMS, the strategy would, among other things, help determine the appropriate frequency of intrusion testing.”
Both DHS and DOJ concurred with GAO’s recommendations.
GAO determined that:
- Many challenges exist in protecting these buildings – including a lack of resources and the need to balance security with access to the public;
- FPS protective security officers passed covert tests at a low rate while FPS also reduced testing scenarios; and
- FPS and USMS reported wide variations in prohibited item record keeping, suggesting a lack of a unified policy and strategy.
“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,” responded 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. I am glad the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice agreed with the recommendations in the report.”
GAO said FPS and USMS experience a range ofchallenges in their efforts to provide effective security screening, including:
- Building characteristics and location may limit security options: many General Services Administration (GSA) buildings were designed and constructed before security screening became a priority;
- Balancing security and public access: striking an appropriate balance between facilitating the public’s access to government services and providing adequate security can be difficult, for example, when there is a high volume of visitors;
- Operating with limited resources: some FPS protective security officers are not fully trained to conduct security screening, and FPS and USMS may have limited funding for additional training or additional security officers;
- Working with multiple federal tenants: many tenant stakeholders at multi-tenant GSA buildings have differing needs and priorities that may not always align when trying to build consensus for security-screening decisions; and
- Effectively informing the public of prohibited items: prohibited items vary by building, and some signage did not effectively relay information to the public.
“To assess security-screening efforts, both FPS and USMS have taken steps such as conducting covert and intrusion tests and collecting data on prohibited items,” GAO said, noting that, “From fiscal years 2011 to 2013, FPS data show that protective security officers passed covert tests on security-screening procedures at a low rate.”
“In October 2012, FPS reduced the number of screening scenarios used for covert testing, but has since reinstated some of them. USMS data show that court security officers passed intrusion tests on security screening at a higher rate,” GAO reported. “For example, USMS reported that court security officers passed 83 percent of intrusion tests on security screening in fiscal year 2010, 91 percent in fiscal year 2011 and 92 percent in fiscal years 2012 and 2013.”
“Although USMS tests more frequently than FPS, it has not met its intrusion-test frequency requirement per building each year,” GAO found. “In addition, FPS and USMS’s data on prohibited items show wide variations in the number of items identified across buildings. For example, FPS reported it had detected approximately 700,000 prohibited items in 2013; however, FPS data showed that there were 295 buildings with no reported data on prohibited items from fiscal years 2004 through 2013.”
GAO said that, “While FPS and USMS may use the results of covert and intrusion tests to address problems at the individual building or FPS region or USMS district level, to some degree, they do not use the results to strategically assess performance nationwide. The benefits of using data in this manner are reflected in the Interagency Security Committee’s (ISC) guidance, as well as key practices in security and internal control standards GAO has developed.”
“Without a more strategic approach to assessing performance, both FPS and USMS are not well positioned to improve security screening nationwide, identify trends and lessons learned and address the aforementioned challenges related to screening in a complex security environment,” GAO concluded.