Collaboration in Civic Spheres

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

by 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).


  • 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 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.

One Response to “GAO Report: Federal Protective Service’s Contract Security Guards Lax”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by PublicDataFerret. PublicDataFerret said: GAO Report: weapons and IED components still being easily smuggled into federal buildings #opengov #security #terrorism […]