The committees responsible for making security decisions at federal buildings do not have the security knowledge necessary to choose the appropriate measures to safeguard their facilities, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The committees responsible for making security decisions at federal buildings do not have the knowledge or power necessary to choose and to fund the appropriate measures to safeguard their facilities, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports.
At each federal building, tenant agencies choose representatives from that location to sit on a facility security committee (FSC), which address security issues and approve security countermeasures at the building. The GAO, however, found two critical deficiencies with the FSC's organizational structure (.pdf).
"[T]enant agency representatives generally do not have any security knowledge or experience but are expected to make security decisions for their respective agencies," the GAO report states. "We also reported that some of the FSC tenant agency representatives also do not have the authority to commit their respective organizations to fund security countermeasures." The tenant representatives must often appeal for funds to their agency headquarters, and sometimes the funding isn't available promptly because of the government's multi-year budgeting cycles, according to Congress' watchdog agency.
The GAO further found that FSCs "have operated since 1995 without guidelines, policies, or procedures that outline how they should operate, make decisions, or establish accountability," according to GAO report. "This results in ad hoc security that undermines effective protection of individual facilities as well as the entire facilities' portfolio."
Federal facilities are managed by the General Services Administration (GSA) but are protected by the Federal Protective Service (FPS), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One part of the FPS mission is to conduct facility security assessments that identify vulnerabilities and possible security countermeasures at federal buildings. This report is then given to a particular building's FSC to decide whether to fund certain countermeasures, which the FPS is responsible for installing and maintaining.
(The GAO has criticized federal building security repeatedly over the past few years, see "Senate to Move Fast on Federal Building Security in Report's Aftermath ," "Contract Guard Oversight at Federal Facilities Gets Failing Grade ," and "Budget and Staffing Cuts Hurt Federal Protective Service .")
The GAO found that the FSC structure and the ambiguous lines of authority and responsibility for implementing improvements between FSCs, FPS, and the GSA actually increase risk at federal facilities.
One FPS official's recommendation to upgrade security to 24-hour coverage at a federal building in a high-crime area could not be implemented because the FSC could not secure unanimous approval from the tenant representatives, GAO reported. In another instance, several regional managers told told FPS inspectors not to recommend security improvements, "because there is not sufficient funding in regional budgets to purchase and maintain the security equipment."
The GAO recommended that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano move quickly to initiate the interagency collaboration necessary to outline the FSCs' "organizational structure, operations, decision-making authority, and accountability."
DHS concurred with the recommendation and said that an FSC standard should be submitted to the Interagency Security Committee , the standards body for federal building security, by before the end of the year.
♦ Photo of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., by cliff1066™/Flickr