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Federal Land Management Employees Need More Protection from Anti-Government Threats, GAO Finds

Federal land management agencies have law enforcement divisions to help protect employees and facilities on nearly 700 million acres of land. Security incidents on federal land include the 2016 armed occupation of a wildlife refuge by individuals motivated by anti-government beliefs.

Federal employees have been subject to a range of threats and assaults. But agencies have not completed all of the required facility security assessments. Officials said they do not have resources or expertise to do so.

The Government Accountability Office recommended that agencies develop a plan to address these factors and complete their assessments so they can reduce risks.

Data from the four federal land management agencies—the Forest Service within the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife (FWS), and National Park Service (Park Service) within the Department of the Interior—showed a range of threats and assaults against agency employees in fiscal years 2013 through 2017. For example, incidents ranged from telephone threats to attempted murder against federal land management employees.

However, the number of actual threats and assaults is unclear and may be higher than what is captured in available data for various reasons. For example, employees may not always report threats because they consider them a part of the job. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) data for fiscal years 2013 through 2017 also showed that the FBI initiated under 100 domestic terrorism investigations into potential threats against federal land management agencies. The majority of these investigations involved BLM and individuals motivated by anti-government ideologies.

The four federal land management agencies have completed some but not all of the facility security assessments on their occupied federal facilities as required by the Interagency Security Committee (ISC). Officials at the four agencies said that either they do not have the resources, expertise, or training to conduct assessments agency-wide. FWS has a plan to complete its assessments, but BLM, the Forest Service, and the Park Service do not. Such a plan could help these agencies address the factors that have affected their ability to complete assessments.

The ISC also requires that agencies conduct assessments using a methodology that meets, among other things, two key requirements: (1) consider all of the undesirable events (e.g., arson and vandalism) identified as possible risks to facilities, and (2) assess the threat, vulnerability, and consequence for each of these events. The Forest Service’s methodology meets these two requirements and the Park Service’s methodology partially meets the requirements, but BLM and FWS have not yet established methodologies for conducting facility security assessments.

Without developing a plan for conducting all of the remaining facility security assessments and using a methodology that complies with ISC requirements, agencies may not identify the risks their facilities face or identify the countermeasures—such as security cameras or security gates—they could implement to mitigate those risks.

GAO is making six recommendations: that BLM, the Forest Service, and the Park Service develop a plan for completing facility security assessments and that BLM, FWS, and the Park Service take action to ensure their facility security assessment methodologies comply with ISC requirements. The agencies generally concurred with the recommendations.

Read the GAO report

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
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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