Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for April, 2010

Seattle Area Group Continues Mission Work In Drug-Ravaged Guinea-Bissau

by Matt Rosenberg April 30th, 2010

From Chris Collins, who was raised in Shoreline, just north of Seattle, and now works as a reporter for the Fresno Bee. With his family, he’s long been involved in mission work and would like to share this:

Flame is a Christian Seattle-based nonprofit that runs a school in Guinea-Bissau, one of the tiniest and poorest countries in the world. The West African country is quickly gaining an international reputation as the continent’s first narco-state. As the United States cracks down on the cocaine trade, Latin American drug cartels are increasingly turning to Guinea-Bissau and other poorly-governed states in West Africa as places where they can ship their product in bulk and then smuggle it into Europe. It’s estimated that the drugs that flow through Guinea-Bissau each year are worth more than the country’s GDP. As a result, many of the unemployed and poor in Guinea-Bissau are turning to this lucrative new trade instead of contributing to their country’s economy and society. Cocaine addiction among Guineans is a rising concern.

Flame is trying to help counter this trend. The trade school it has built in Canchungo, the country’s third-largest city, offers a post-secondary education that gives its students piratical skills that translate into jobs. It offers classes in sewing, computer basics, auto mechanics, and English. The school’s administrators and teachers are all native Guineans. The school has been open for more than two years and has more than 100 students. It has become a critical asset in the community. Eventually, Flame hopes to build similar schools in other cities in Guinea-Bissau and throughout West Africa.

Flame will host its annual fundraiser this Saturday, May 1, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Christian Reformed Church (14555 25th Ave NE in Shoreline).

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: Smuggling Weapons & Explosives Into Federal Buildings

by Matt Rosenberg April 28th, 2010

Today was the third regular weekly Public Data Ferret segment on KOMO 1000 News Radio Seattle, with “Nine2Noon” show co-host Brian Calvert and co-anchor Marina Rockinger, subbing for Nancy Barrick. We were talking about a report highlighted at this blog’s Public Data Ferret information hub from The U.S. Government Accountability Office about shortcomings in security at major federal office buildings and courthouses. Here’s the audio of the whole segment and below, the transcript.

Brian Calvert: “Even after increased security measures, a new report suggests weapons are being smuggled into federal buildings at an alarming rate. Matt Rosenberg joins us, he’s with communityforums.org, and as part of that Web site, the Public Data Ferret. Matt, you took a look at a recent study about security in federal buildings. Tell us what you found.”

Matt Rosenberg: “You bet, Brian. Good morning to you and Marina. Since the year 1995 and the bombing in Oklahoma City, we’re now spending $659 million annually for 15,000 contract security guards to protect the busiest federal office buildings and courthouses. The agency is called the Federal Protective Service, but yes, as the new report indicates, there’s a real issue with the quality of the protection. The Government Accountability Office – which is Congress’ version of Brian Sonntag, if you will, our wonderful state auditor – has found serious problems in the performance of the guards. A new report reveals that undercover investigators are able to keep smuggling weapons and explosives into the most public federal facilities at a high rate of success.”

“Now in this report, they remind Congress first, things were already bad, that there’s July 2009 data showing that 10 of 10 attempts were successful to smuggle in components of Improvised Explosive Devices. But here’s the kicker. The new report discloses that things still aren’t good. They’ve done more of this so-called “penetration testing,” 53 different tests were run, and two out of three times, investigators were able to smuggle in – through the checkpoints, past the contract security guards – things like guns, knives and fake bombs. Now, you know, a batting average of .333 will put you on the All-Star Team in baseball, but not in security work – it should put you on the bench. And that’s what GAO is basically saying in this new report.”

Marina Rockinger: “Well Matt, I want to ask you, you just almost answered the question I was about to ask you, which was, is this stuff coming in through the front door? Because I’ve been in the Seattle federal courthouse, a few times, and my shoes will set the thing off, and they’ll tell me, ‘okay, go back, we’ve got to check you again.’ They look at my computer, they look at a lot of things. How is this stuff getting in through the front door?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well, I think in most facilities, it is. And probably, they’ve got a tightly run operation there, and maybe that’s not one of the places where this is a really really big problem. But they ran these tests all over the country, in six of the eleven regions that are covered by the Federal Protective Service. So, all in all, they’re finding across the nation that, you know, the batting average is not great. And, it could be sometimes that just because the detectors get set off by something in somebody’s shoes, that other times, things slip by. So, on average, it’s not looking good, that’s what the GAO is saying.”

Brian Calvert: “Interesting stuff. If you want to find out more about what Matt found in this report, you can go to communityforums.org and click on the Public Data Ferret, and find out more information. Matt, thanks for joining us this morning. It is 9:19 here at KOMO News Radio.”

RELATED: KOMO-AM 1000 broadcasts are live-streamed here.

GAO Report: Federal Protective Service’s Contract Security Guards Lax

by Matt Rosenberg April 26th, 2010

BACKGROUND: Since the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh, killing 168 people and injuring 500, there has been increased emphasis on security procedures at high-traffic, high-risk federal facilities such as federal courthouses and regional federal office buildings (Class 4 facilities). The Federal Protective Service (FPS) has a budget of $1 billion to provide law enforcement and security for the almost 9,000 buildings overseen by the federal government’s real estate and administrative services branch, known as the General Services Administration. FPS employs 1,225 full-time workers and about 15,000 contract security guards who work at some 2,360 federal facilities around the country. In FPS Region 10, made up of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska, there are 369 guards at 111 facilities. For the contract security guard program, FPS obligated $659 million for fiscal year 2009, about two-thirds of its budget. One of three FPS offices which is in charge of contracting with firms providing the security guards at facilities nationwide is located in the Seattle region, in Federal Way, Wash. Overall, as of last October, FPS had a total of 125 different guard contracts with 38 different contractors. With oversight from FPS, the contractors are responsible for management, supervision, training, equipment, supplies, and licensing of guards.

A PROBLEM: The investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), has found substantial shortcomings in the performance of the contract security guards at Class 4 facilities. Of particular concern is the continuing failure of the security guards to apprehend undercover investigators who are able to smuggle weapons and explosives into federal facilities, through security checkpoints.

KEY DOCUMENT: “Federal Protective Service’s Contract Guard Program Requires More Oversight And Reassessment Of Use Of Contract Guards,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, 4/13/10.

KEY FINDINGS: This new GAO performance audit first emphasizes that in an earlier, July 2009 report to Congress, the GAO noted that 10 of 10 attempts by undercover investigators to smuggle into Class 4 facilities the components of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) concealed on their person, were successful (p. 16 of new report). The new report discloses things have improved only slightly since then. Subsequent FPS “penetration testing” shows that in 53 specific probes spread across six of the service’s 11 regions, guards identified prohibited items – guns, knives and fake bombs – in just 18 instances, and failed to do so 35 times. (p. 17 of report).

ADDITIONAL FINDINGS:

  • The quality of guard inspections and reports is inconsistent.
  • Additional training for guards on X-Ray machines and metal detectors will not be fully complete until year-end 2010.
  • One contractor related to GAO that FPS fails to require contractors train guards to deal with “challenge and response” scenarios such as a suicide bomber, active shooter, evacuation, or shelter in place. Instead the emphasis is on basic prevention and detection. Investigators found some guards did not know how to execute emergency steps such as locking a building or accessing controls to the building ventilation system.
  • FPS inspectors meant to ensure quality performance of contracted security guards say they aren’t given enough time to finish inspections of guards due to the agency’s emphasis on inventorying building structure vulnerabilities. The human performance factor gets short shrift.
  • FPS has failed to conduct any comprehensive review since 1995 of the contract guard program.

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS:

Key recommendations in the report numbered eight in total and were mainly focused on the following:

  • Identify and evaluate ways other than the contract guard program to provide adequate security for Class 4 federal facilities.
  • Implement far more rigorous quality control of contract guards through better performance monitoring and contractor enforcement; a standardized record-keeping format; provision of reliable and comprehensive real-time data; scenario-based training; and more thorough verification of guard certification and training.

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: Seattle Database For Tracking Building & Land Use Permitting

by Matt Rosenberg April 21st, 2010

Here’s the audio file of my latest regular weekly appearance as the Public Data Ferret, on KOMO 1000 AM/97.7 FM with “Nine2Noon” show co-anchors Brian Calvert and Nancy Barrick. Our topic today was how citizens, advocates and community journalists can use an information-rich and customizable City of Seattle online database and mapping tool to track building and land use permit activity, and report on or add their voices to the decision-making process. Here’s the original Ferret write-up including related links, posted at the Public Data Ferret hub – that’s our own special searchable database of neutral, blogged synopses of important public documents, databases and data sets. And here’s the full transcript of today’s Ferret radio segment.

TRANSCRIPT
Co-anchor Brian Calvert: “Lots of people in the Capitol Hill neighborhood waking up to news this morning that their neighborhood is going to be a lot louder because of a Sound Transit construction project, especially in the first parts of next year, and there’s not a whole lot they can do about it because the city’s signed off on it. But have you ever wanted to find out more about what’s being built in your neighborhood, perhaps before the bad news is leveled, before it’s too late and you can’t do anything about it? Matt Rosenberg, the Public Data Ferret at communityforums.org, joins us. Matt, you actually came across an online database and mapping tool that helps us figure out what’s going on in our neighborhoods, right?”

Matt Rosenberg: “That’s correct. The Seattle Department of Planning and Development has an absolutely great database and mapping tool called the Activity Locator, and it can let you get a real jump on what’s going on in your neighborhood.”

Co-anchor Nancy Barrick: “And I see these signs every so often, the land use action, always wondering, does anyone listen if I care to make a comment about this?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well they really do. There’s a pretty robust public participation process, but you do have to get keyed in. The city issues about 6,000 building permits a year, for property improvements valued at $2 billion, that was last year, in ‘09. But you know, there’s a real balancing act involving economic interests plus concerns we all have about the environment, aesthetics, and traffic congestion. So, the permit Activity Locator, at the department’s site, makes it easy. What you do is, you go right in there and you can start looking at a lot of things real fast. You might want to check out how many multi-family residential developments have been approved in Seattle or in your slice of Seattle in the last few years. You might want to look at pending permit applications for major commercial or mixed-use projects in your neighborhood’s business district. There’s just a whole world of stuff there and you can just jump right in. And then, the key piece, Brian and Nancy, is that you can drill down. For each project, you can actually look at a permit summary, and see what’s being proposed, what’s happened so far – what the permitting history is, who the owner is, and even their address.”

Brian Calvert: “I would imagine, Matt, not only is this handy for people who live in the affected area currently, but if you’re thinking about buying property, or maybe you’re a business owner and you’re about to lease some office space, this might be great information to have before you make the commitment, right?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Totally. It’s very customizable, too, which is important for folks these days when they’re using online resources. So, you may want to get a feel for what other sorts of commercial and mixed-use projects are going on. You might be an environmental advocate and want to take a look a how much high-density development is really occurring, and where, and is it near transit stops, for instance. You might just be concerned about whether there are, you know, more town home developments going in, because you’ve got a bone to pick with all the traffic that seems to result from them. Or you might think that’s a good thing, and want to see what kind of progress the city is making in that area.”

Nancy Barrick: “Alright. Good stuff. Matt Rosenberg, the Public Data Ferret, at communityforums.org.

RELATED: KOMO-AM 1000 broadcasts are live-streamed here.