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GAO: More Effective Management Needed in Delegating Security Authority to Federal Agencies

Ineffective management by the Federal Protective Service (FPS) in delegating security authority to federal agencies places federal facilities at risk, according to a recent audit by the Government Accountability Office.

“Given that federal facilities remain targets of potential terrorist attacks or other acts of violence, it is important that FPS manages its delegations of authority program effectively,” said GAO. “However, FPS has not effectively managed its delegations of authority program.”

FPS is the division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) charged with protecting over 9,500 federal facilities owned or leased by the General Services Administration. Among other things, FPS is responsible for responding to incidents, conducting criminal investigations, hiring and overseeing contract security guards deployed at federal facilities, and conducting facility security assessments.

In addition to protecting federal facilities, FPS manages DHS’ delegations of authority program, which includes determining whether a federal agency or department should be authorized to provide its own law enforcement or security services instead of FPS.

After reviewing how FPS manages its delegations of authority program, GAO determined that FPS does not fully meet applicable federal standards GAO identified for effective program management.

“Without fully meeting these standards and leading practices, FPS cannot ensure that its decisions to grant, renew, or rescind delegations of authority are based on sound data and that security resources are efficiently allocated and in a manner that leads to effective protection of federal facilities,” said GAO.

GAO found that FPS lacks reliable data for determining how many delegations of authority it has granted. Consequently, FPS cannot determine how many delegations of authority it needs to review and oversee to ensure that security services and law enforcement are provided at federal facilities.

Although the federal Standards for Internal Control requires agencies to have “relevant, reliable, and timely information,” of the 62 delegations of authority that FPS officials said were verified as active, GAO found that 12 had either expired or been rescinded.

“Developing and implementing procedures to improve the accuracy of its delegation of authority data would enable FPS to ensure that delegated facilities are protected in a mannerconsistent with federal physical security standards and would provide its stakeholders with accurate and timely information for decisionmaking,” said GAO.

In November 2012, FPS submitted to Congress an Interim Delegation Assessment Plan (Interim Plan), which includes FPS’s methodology for reviewing all delegations of authority, after receiving Congressional direction to submit a proposed plan for reviewing all delegations of authority.

However, GAO determined that FPS’ model for estimating costs associated with delegation laid out in the Interim Plan does not fully align with the standards laid out in GAO’s Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide. Without fully aligning the cost model with leading practices, FPS faces limitations developing reliable cost estimates.

“FPS could enhance its ability to produce reliable cost estimates by aligning its cost estimation model with leading practices to ensure its estimates are comprehensive, well documented, accurate, and credible,” said GAO. “Such an approach, would give FPS a solid technical basis for making its delegation of authority recommendations to DHS management.”

Moreover, FPS failed to fully follow its Interim Plan when reviewing request for new or renewed delegations of authority. For example, GAO analyzed the six requests that FPS reviewed from June 2012 through May 2014, and found that FPS did not consistently conduct cost and capability analyses when it reviewed five of the requests.

“It is important that FPS ensure that these analyses are consistently done,” said GAO. “Without these analyses, FPS and DHS management faces limitations in making informed decisions about how best to protect delegated federal facilities from potential terrorist attacks or other acts of violence, protection that is FPS’s responsibility.”

In response, GAO recommended that the Secretary of DHS direct FPS to improve the accuracy of its delegation data, update its cost estimation model to align with leading practices, and establish management controls to ensure that its staff conducts the required cost and capability analyses. DHS concurred with the recommendations.

Effective management of the delegation of authority program is crucial to FPS’ ability to meet new demands for heightened security at federal facilities. As Homeland Security Today previously reported, after a gunman in Ottawa shot a soldier and stormed Canada’s parliament building, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson directed FPS to enhance its presence and security at various US government buildings in Washington DC and other major cities and locations around the country.

"Given world events, prudence dictates a heightened vigilance in the protection of US government installations and our personnel,” said Johnson.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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