"This is the broadest indictment of a federal agency I have ever heard," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said at a Homeland Security Committee hearing on the performance of the Federal Protective Service, the office responsible for the safety of some 9,000 federal facilities.
"This is really serious stuff."
The committee, chaired by Lieberman, heard how Government Accountability Office investigators on 10 occasions carried the components for an improvised explosive device through checkpoints monitored by FPS guards. In all 10 cases the bomb-making materials went undetected.
Mark Goldstein, the GAO's director for physical infrastructure issues, said the investigators proceeded to assemble the material — made up of a liquid explosive and a low-yield detonator — in restrooms and walked freely around the facilities with the IED in a briefcase.
He said that in some cases the bathrooms were locked but employees working in the buildings opened them up for the visitors.
The IEDs, which Goldstein said contained actual bomb components but with concentrations below trigger points, were smuggled into 10 level IV facilities — buildings housing more than 450 employees with a high volume of public contact — in four major cities. They included offices of a
U.S. senator and representative and agencies such as the departments of Homeland Security, State and Justice.
"In this post-9/11 world that we are now living in, I cannot fathom how security breaches of this magnitude were allowed to occur," Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, top Republican on the committee, said.
The FPS, Goldstein concluded, "is an agency in crisis." In addition to the smuggling operations, the GAO cited examples of a night guard being found asleep after taking the pain killer prescription drug Percocet, and a guard failing to recognize or properly x-ray a box containing handguns at the loading dock of a facility. One guard supposed to have been at his post was caught using government computers to manage a private for-profit adult website.
The report also found that 411 of the 663 guards deployed to a federal facility had at least one expired firearm qualification, background check, domestic violence declaration or CPR-first aid training certificate.
While the FPS requires that all prospective guards complete 128 hours of training, including eight hours of x-ray and magnetometer training, in one region the service had not provided the x-ray or metal detector training to its 1,500 guards since 2004.
Gary Schenkel, the FPS director, said the report "caused us all grave concern" and that within three hours of receiving the study he had ordered regional directors to increase inspections and outline steps they would take to improve guard performance. "It's purely a lack of oversight on our part," he acknowledged.
He also explained that the FPS's full-time workforce had decreased from 1,400 in 2003, when it became part of the new Department of Homeland Security, to 1,236 today, and that the agency had had to reschedule training and equipment purchases to avoid greater cuts. The FPS has a budget of about $1 billion and, in addition to full-time employees, uses about 13,000 contract security guards.
Schenkel said his office would also require the FPS's 11 regional directors to conduct more random searches of packages, increase oversight of contract guards, and carry out overt and cover inspections of screening processes.
Lieberman said the committee had originally planned to go public with the findings after the GAO issues a second report later this summer, but the conclusions "were so disturbing that we decided to air them immediately to accelerate the critical work of turning the FPS around." He said he planned to introduce legislation responding to the service's shortcomings.