Lawmaker: U.S. security agency faltering

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AFGE Local 918-FPS President David Wright was interviewed for a CNN news story about the plight of FPS.

Lawmaker: U.S. security agency faltering

Story Highlights
NEW: “Guards acted according to established mission guidelines,” director says

Federal Protective Service understaffed and underfunded, GAO says

Embarrassing incidents show vulnerability of government properties

Congresswoman compares agency to FEMA, blames Homeland Security

From Jeanne Meserve and Jim Spellman
CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) — A series of embarrassing incidents on federal property across the country, including the theft of a trailer of surveillance equipment from an FBI parking deck, is being blamed on budget cuts at the agency charged with securing federal grounds.

“We’re seeing the near collapse of the Federal Protective Service,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District of Columbia, who leads the congressional subcommittee that oversees federal buildings.

The service’s budget and staff have been cut since it became part of the Department of Homeland Security in March 2003, according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.

“I think that FPS is less able to do its job than … in the past, primarily because of budgetary restrictions that have occurred, and that has forced them to slash their workforce” GAO investigator Mark Goldstein said.

“There are 756 uniformed federal officers to oversee the 8,800 buildings” under the agency’s watch, he said.

A preliminary GAO report contained these findings:

• A man died at a vacant federal complex in Kansas City, Missouri, and his body was not found for three months.

• Twenty-two guns were stolen from a federal building in Atlanta, Georgia. A private security guard employed at the building was convicted of participating in the theft.

• A surveillance trailer with $400,000 worth of high-tech equipment was stolen from the parking garage of a federal building in Los Angeles, California.

CNN has learned the trailer was stolen from the Los Angeles FBI field office in May. Contract guards watched the theft on surveillance cameras but did nothing to intervene and did not report the incident for three days, according to an incident report confirmed by the FBI and Norton.

The trailer was recovered with some of the equipment intact. The FBI investigation is still open.

In Kansas City, Eric L. Howell, 27, who had been homeless from time to time, died in a vacant government building sometime in summer 2007. His body was found months later by a government real estate agent showing the property to a prospective buyer. The cause of death could not be determined.

FPS director Gary W. Schenkel defended his agency, telling CNN the incidents cited by the GAO were “taken out of context.”

“FPS does not refute that these incidents took place, but I do believe that additional background information shows that FPS and its contract guards acted according to the established mission guidelines and standards,” Schenkel said.

He said the trailer was taken by “a government contractor with frequent access to the parking deck” and blamed the FBI for taking “three days to notice and report that its own trailer was missing.”

In regards to the Kansas City case, Schenkel said the Government Services Administration building in question “was not on the GSA list,” and FPS wasn’t being paid to guard it.

But critics say that’s just the point — because of funding cuts since it was made a part of the Homeland Security Department five years ago and an unusual pay-for-service arrangement to compute its current budget, FPS is unable to adequate provide security for government properties.

Before the creation of the Homeland Security Department in 2003, the Federal Protective Service was part of the Government Services Administration, which manages thousands of federal properties across the country, functioning as landlord to hundreds of federal agencies.

While part of the Government Services Administration, the Federal Protective Service had a larger budget and more agents. But its workforce has been cut 20 percent since 2004, the year after the agency became part of Homeland Security. FPS is funded through a complex formula based on the square footage of the property that Government Services controls.

“Everyone was proud the day it was announced that Homeland Security was going to be formed, and there were talks that FPS was going to be absorbed. … It’s been downhill ever since,” said David Wright, president of Local 918 of the American Federation of Government Employees, the FPS union.

He said FPS has never been taken seriously within Homeland Security.

“We were at the bottom of the food chain, so there’s a real disregard for Federal Protective Service within our parent agency,” Wright said.

Last year, Congress required Homeland Security to add 150 officers to the service, but the department still will rely on about 15,000 contracted private security guards for the bulk of the policing at federal buildings, according to the GAO, Norton and the union.

Contract guards are generally less expensive than federal officers, but they lack the training of FPS officers, and in many jurisdictions, they have no power to arrest or detain suspects, Goldstein and Norton said.

“Unless the government is prepared to have a private army or a public army of guards, which would be astronomically expensive, we’re going to have to find the right mix of private guards to do security in less risky areas and then have more highly trained guards perhaps in higher security areas,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.

Norton compared the decline of the Federal Protective Service with the shortcomings of the Federal Emergency Management Agency revealed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Interestingly, both happened when they were transferred to the Department of Homeland Security,” Norton said.

“I can’t say honestly to anybody who asks that ‘Now that the Federal Protective Service is in the Homeland Security Department, you’re better off.’ You’re worse off.”

FPS Director releases statement on mandated staffing increase

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FPS Director Gary Schenkel released a message to FPS stakeholders regarding the recently enacted law requiring FPS to maintain a minimum of 1,200 personnel. Here is the statement:

Dear Stakeholders,

On February 8, 2008, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management held a hearing on the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) Review of the Federal Protective Service (FPS). FPS cannot refute what GAO stated, though some of the information and events presented were taken out of context. We especially do not contest GAO’s recognition that GSA never fully funded FPS and therefore did not provide adequate funding to DHS when it transferred FPS to ICE.

I responded to the media on Friday February 8, 2008, by addressing the many challenges that existed for FPS long before the organization was transferred to ICE and DHS. I also discussed FPS’ recent successes and accomplishments. During FY 2006, FPS significantly refined and improved its business practices by creating a Consolidated Contract Group and, in FY 2007, consolidating its invoice processing and payment operations. In addition, by August of 2007, FPS had paid all of its outstanding invoices – more than 2,000 invoices amounting to over $92.8 million. ICE has worked with FPS to implement a great number of business improvements over the last year to include establishing a new financial accounting process that has helped FPS tackle and overcome many of the fiscal accountability problems of the agency.

ICE/FPS is moving ahead to improve building security through transition to an Inspector-based permanent workforce, which was recognized and initiated under GSA. An enhanced Inspector workforce will provide better oversight for an extensive contract guard service that has been fully maintained and which provides the first line of security for the federal facilities protected by FPS.

As stated by Public Law 110-161, signed December 26, 2007, FPS was directed to increase its staffing to 1,200 personnel to protect and enforce laws at Federal buildings, including 900 law enforcement personnel. This requires FPS to hire an additional 150 law enforcement officers above its current staffing levels. You may have heard rumors regarding how this increase in staff will be funded. To comply with the law, FPS must increase its operating budget and will hire 150 new officers in FY 2008 to bring FPS’ total law enforcement officer staffing to 900.

Public Law 110-161 went on to direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to either collect fees or fund through other means. Subsequently, the Secretary has determined that increasing fees is the method chosen to financially support the increase in FPS Law Enforcement personnel.

Since FPS is entirely fee-funded, it must recoup these additional costs through a mid-year fee increase. The law directs that the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget adjust the fees to generate the necessary revenue to fund this increase in personnel. This unfunded congressional requirement requires us to raise the basic security fee level in FY 2008 and in FY 2009. We recognize that these increases are unbudgeted and must be absorbed within current resources.

As of November 28, 2007, FPS staffing was at 1,104 federal employees, with 70 percent in Inspector/Law Enforcement positions and 30 percent in mission support positions. While short of the target of 1,200 employees, FPS continues to work toward building funding and staffing.

With the addition of 150 new Inspectors, in FY 2008, who have law enforcement certification, FPS will have the necessary flexibility to allow FPS Regional Directors as well as District and Area Commanders to provide the imperative attention needed for our primary physical security core mission. Through proper scheduling, this will allow us to provide proactive patrol and appropriate response. The addition of RAMP, a National Countermeasures Program and an increase in our K-9 program will also provide FPS with additional flexibility.
FPS is finalizing efforts to establish a National Security Countermeasures Program that includes streamlined processes to purchase and maintain such countermeasures as closed circuit video systems, x-ray machines, and metal detectors. Countermeasures incorporated as part of a comprehensive risk mitigation strategy often include certified, armed contract security guards. As such, to truly integrate this effort, FPS has further trained and certified over 400 Inspectors as Contracting Office Technical Representatives (COTR) to properly monitor, maintain and make necessary adjustments to contract guards, their placement and maintenance of security measures.

As the Director of FPS, I want to assure you that the dedicated men and women of FPS will continue to use every resource available and continue our efforts to provide Secure Facilities, Safe Occupants.

Gary W Schenkel
Director, Federal Protective Service

The Department of Homeland security has decided to place the burden of hiring much needed additional law enforcement officers upon FPS stakeholders, federal agencies whom FPS is charged to protect. Rather than use discretionary appropriations within the DHS budget as was authorized under the new law, Homeland Security is requiring federal agencies to pay for the additional staffing through an increase in the security fees. Many FPS stakeholders have voiced their concerns about the increasing costs and reduced services FPS is providing. In fact, the Judiciary has asked Congress to examine the prospect of terminating FPS services for Federal courthouses due to the high costs and little return being provided due to the continued downsizing of FPS.

FPS Director Schenkel is obviously ill-informed about the agency or has deliberately misled FPS stakeholders and degraded the hard work of FPS employees. In his statement, Director Schenkel states that “some of the information and events presented were taken out of context” by GAO when it presented its preliminary observations to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management on February 8, 2008. It is hard to take out of context the fact that there are several problems with FPS’ continuing reliance and emphasis on an ill-trained contract security force and the elimination of FPS Police Officers. GAO cited numerous examples of why this is problematic. Director Schenkel should detail exactly what information and incidents were taken out of context. As a stakeholder, AFGE Local 918-FPS would like to know exactly what Director Schenkel believes was taken out of context. The GAO’s preliminary observations were just the tip of the iceberg. When the final report is released in May FPS stakeholders can see for themselves what is or is not being taken of context.

In his statement, Director Schenkel states: “ICE/FPS is moving ahead to improve building security through transition to an Inspector-based permanent workforce, which was recognized and initiated under GSA. An enhanced Inspector workforce will provide better oversight for an extensive contract guard service that has been fully maintained and which provides the first line of security for the federal facilities protected by FPS.”
There are two important issues that must be addressed with this statement. First, it is not true! The Inspector-based workforce concept was developed under Julie Myers and Gary Schenkel’s leadership within just the past couple of years. GSA had no involvement in this ill-conceived initiative and it is unlikely that GSA would support the elimination of FPS Police Officers and a significant reduction in uniformed law enforcement presence and response in Federal buildings under GSA control. Further, it is abhorrent that Director Schenkel would call contract security guards the “first line of security for federal facilities protected by FPS”. He fails to recognize the hard work of FPS law enforcement officers. AFGE Local 918-FPS would expect the Director of FPS would recognize the hard work and prominent role that FPS law enforcement officers provide in protecting federal buildings. FPS law enforcement officers are the first line – NOT contract security guards.

Director Schnekel is misleading stakeholders. Under the leadership of Julie Myers and Gary Schenkel, FPS has suffered enormously. They fail to grasp the fact that the Inspector-based workforce will not work and will leave federal buildings at greater risk. They place to much emphasis on ill-trained contract security guards. They tout their financial successes but in fact it was the employees of FPS who have and continue to suffer as a result. First, they cut retention allowances from FPS law enforcement officers resulting in an immediate 10% pay cut for these officers. Then they eliminated overtime which, with an ever shrinking workforce, resulted in a significant decrease in coverage and protection for federal buildings during the evening, nights and on weekends. Finally, after less than 9 months after cutting the pay of FPS law enforcement officers for in the name of “fiduciary responsibility”, FPS provided cash bonuses to senior managers and personnel of FPS. So much for the hard work of FPS employees who barely received any sort of bonus.

It is time for new leadership within FPS. FPS needs a leader with law enforcement experience and leadership ability to take this agency in the right direction. A former TSA manager with no law enforcement experience, who was fired from a civilian administrator position within the Chicago Police Department and who after more than a year continues to remain out of touch with the workforce and the stakeholders is not the type of leader that FPS needs. FPS needs a strong, experienced law enforcement manager to take the initiative and restore the capability of FPS to protect our Nation’s federal buildings and restore the stakeholder confidence in FPS. It is time for a new Director for the Federal Protective Service!

Convicted Drug Dealer Lunges at Prosecutor, Razor in Hand

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From today’s New York Sun. Convicted Drug Dealer smuggles weapon in to a Federal courtroom and attacks an Assistant U.S. Attorney. Of course, FPS, which in this case would be the Region 2 Office in New York, NY, has no comment. FPS has no presence at or around the courthouses and rarely has anyone assigned in Brooklyn. Staffing limitations prevent it.

Convicted Drug Dealer Lunges at Prosecutor, Razor in Hand
BY Staff Reporter of the Sun
March 12, 2008

Court officers and attorneys wrestled a convicted drug dealer to the ground in Brooklyn federal court yesterday as he lunged at a prosecutor with a razor in his hand, his attorney said yesterday. The convict, Victor Wright, who was facing a life sentence for his third drug conviction and has already served 20 years in prison, is reported to have lunged at an assistant U.S. attorney, Carolyn Pokorny, and grabbed her neck.

His lawyer, Harry Batchelder Jr., along with several court officers and a court reporter, tackled Wright to the ground.

“It was a pretty scary situation,” Mr. Batchelder said. “She was screaming, because he had a hold of her throat.”

Mr. Batchelder said a razor was discovered in Wright’s hands afterwards.

Ms. Pokorny was not injured in the attack. The U.S. attorney’s office and Federal Protective Service could not be reached for comment. It is unclear how Wright was able to smuggle a razor into the courthouse.

Federal Buildings to Get Added Protection but More Needs to be Done!

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DHS still needs to take additional action to better protect Federal buildings. In addition to hiring Inspectors, FPS must hire additional Police Officers and Special Agents, as well as support staff. FPS remains understaffed, underfunded and overworked which in turn is placing Federal buildings at greater risk of crime and terrorist attack. More needs to be done…

Government Buildings to Get Added Protection

By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, March 5, 2008; D04

The police force in charge of protecting most federal buildings, recently criticized as understaffed and demoralized, will soon add officers.

Congress last year directed the Federal Protective Service to have 1,200 full-time employees by July 31 and stipulated that 900 of them must be full-time law enforcement officers, inspectors and agents.

By adding staff, Congress hopes that the police force, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, will be better able to deter terrorist threats. Last month, the Government Accountability Office said understaffing and other problems affect the police force, exposing buildings in the Washington area and elsewhere “to a greater risk of crime or terrorist attack.”

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in a Feb. 28 letter to Congress, said the police force has about 750 of the required 900 law enforcement personnel on board and is working to hire the remaining 150 by the end of July, as directed last year by Congress.

He cautioned that not all of the new hires may be trained in time, delaying compliance with the law until the end of September.

On Friday, officials will post an announcement on USAJobs.gov, the government’s recruitment Web site, for the jobs at the FPS. They also plan to highlight the jobs at career fairs throughout the country in coming months.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.), who both head homeland security appropriations subcommittees, asked Chertoff last month for a status report on staffing at the FPS.

The force has 1,062 employees, down from 1,400 three years ago, according to the GAO. The federal officers oversee about 15,000 contract security guards who keep watch at federal buildings.

The decline in the police force has led to fewer patrols around buildings, delays in responding to calls and inadequate oversight of security guards, the GAO testified last month at a House subcommittee hearing chaired by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

The FPS is financed through fees paid by tenants of federal buildings, and Chertoff said the force’s security fees will go up to pay for the larger staff. “Our success in implementing and sustaining this higher level of staffing is dependent on our customers’ ability to pay the increase,” he wrote.

Chertoff also said the FPS “has been aggressive in reforming the way it conducts business.” It has provided additional training to employees to provide for more timely building security assessments and, with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has trained more than 400 employees in contracting procedures so that they can monitor security guard contracts, he said.

FPS to hire 150 Inspectors, AFGE asks where are the Police Officers?

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Federal Protective Service Director Gary Schenkel released the following statement in an e-mail to FPS employees.

From: FPS-Director
Sent: Tuesday, February 26, 2008 11:30 AM
Subject: 2008 OMNIBUS BILL

It has been rare that I have been able to pass on to all of you some very good news regarding FPS. As a result of the 2008 OMNIBUS Bill, the Federal Protective Service will have, “ not fewer than 1,200 full-time equivalent staff including 900 full-time equivalent Police Officers, Inspectors, Area Commanders, and Special Agents who, while working, are directly engaged on a daily basis protecting and enforcing laws at Federal buildings (referred to as `in-service field staff’).” What this means to us is that we will be hiring 150 new GS-0080 Inspectors.

We remain a 100 percent fee-for-service organization. With this type of funding, we are restricted in the level of participation in many of our activities. Of our entire line of business, 80 percent of that is directly related to the emplacement of countermeasures, in particular the Contract Guard Program. In the spring of last year, as part of the FPS CAP, an independent contracting firm conducted four focus groups with senior members of our primary customers. Each group consistently reported that they were not satisfied with the level of attention paid to building security, existing countermeasures, contract guards, and customer service provided by the FPS. Additionally, expectations on our law enforcement capabilities continued to increase, placing a contradictory burden on our diminishing force. To that end, we charted a direction for our agency to become an Inspector-based force.

By concentrating on our core protective mission, that of protecting nearly 9,000 GSA-owned or leased facilities and their millions of tenants and visitors, through all of your efforts, we have begun to position ourselves in our rightful place as the premier physical security organization within the federal government. Together, FPS, the Burlington Finance Center (BFC) and the Consolidated Contracting Groups (CCG), paid more than 2,200 past due invoices last summer, thus enabling us to put an estimated savings in penalties of more than $1 million back into our agency, which translated to new uniforms and equipment. In 2007, again with total team effort, we were able to provide a seamless transition from one failing contract guard company to another new and stable contract company. For the first time in years, FPS has been able to recognize superior performance and individual acts through monetary awards. All of this and much more is the direct result of your hard work and dedication.

This addition of 150 new Inspectors, with their law enforcement certification, gives the necessary flexibility that will allow FPS Regional Directors, and District and Area Commanders to provide the imperative attention needed for our primary physical security core mission. These new Inspectors will have no impact on the transitioning of our GS-0083 Police Officers that qualify to become Inspectors. Nor will the new Inspectors replace any of the GS-0083 Police Officers who do not qualify or do not choose to convert. Through proper scheduling, this will allow us to provide proactive patrol and appropriate response. The addition of RAMP, a National Countermeasures Program and an increase in our K-9 program will also provide FPS with additional flexibility.

This has marked a dramatic turning point for FPS and it took all of you, your hard work and your dedication, to make it happen. I want to publicly thank ICE for their continued support of FPS, as they have been with us through extremely restrictive times. And an additional thanks to Inspector David Wright, President of AFGE Local 918, and its members for sharing the vision, keeping the faith and motivation amongst the members, and working hard to help make this happen.

Gary W. Schenkel
Director, FPS

David Wright, President of AFGE Local 918-FPS released the following statement on the AFGE Local 918 website.:

Press Release: From David Wright, President AFGE Local 918: AFGE Local 918 is pleased the Bush Administration is complying with the law enacted by Congress last year requiring the Department of Homeland Security to provide 900 law enforcement personnel at the Federal Protective Service. But we are disappointed that the Department continues to believe all of these personnel should be “Inspectors” rather than “Police Officers”. AFGE Local 918 believes that Police Officers are the first line of defense against terrorist and criminal attacks at Federal properties throughout the nation. Evidently the Department does not share that belief. I anticipate that when the Government Accounting Office report comes out in May, it will offer a more rational view of the future mission and direction of the Federal Protective Service.

In response to FPS Director Schenkel’s e-mail, AFGE Local 918 Secretary James Ward sent the following informal communication to FPS employees:

By now, many of you have seen the FPS Director’s message regarding the 2008 Omnibus Spending Bill. As Mr. Schenkel indicated, the Agency has finally decided to comply with this law and hire additional personnel. As indicated, the law requires FPS have “not fewer than 1,200 full-time equivalent staff including 900 full-time equivalent Police Officers, Inspectors, Area Commanders, and Special Agents who, while working, are directly engaged on a daily basis protecting and enforcing laws at Federal buildings (referred to as `in-service field staff’). Unfortunately, as indicated in the Director’s e-mail, the Agency will only be hiring Inspectors as it continues with its misguided and ill-advised plan to transition to an Inspector-based workforce and eliminate Police Officers despite the fact that this action will place Federal buildings, employees and visitors to these facilities at greater risk of crime and terrorist attack. This same concern is highlighted in the GAO’s recent report on its “Preliminary Observations on the Federal Protective Service’s Plan to Protect Federal Property” and has been expressed by many members of Congress.

In the GAO’s own words, “[m]any FPS officials at locations we visited believe this transition and recent staffing reductions have increased the risk of terrorist or criminal activities at some federal facilities.” Despite the concerns raised by so many, FPS continues with its Comprehensive Action Plan (CAP) which we frequently hear about but of which we have yet to see any details. On behalf of AFGE Local 918, I recently requested a copy of the FPS CAP and related documentation. The Agency’s response was that the CAP consisted of 19, 430 pages and that we would have to agree to pay $44,380.60 for a copy. Almost $45,000.00 for a copy of a plan we should all be knowledgeable of and which the Agency should be providing the union at no-cost as part of an effective labor-management relations process. Unfortunately, the Agency continues to refuse to work with the union on many issues and concerns. FPS managers continue to retaliate against union representatives and make it difficult for them to perform their representational functions.

So I am bewildered that the Director would thank the union and it’s President for “sharing the vision, keeping the faith and motivation amongst the members, and working hard to help make this happen”. The Agency has done little for FPS or its employees. It was the hard work and dedication of David Wright, our members and our lobbying and legal staff that stopped the Agency from further downsizing FPS. I personally sat before a House of Representatives Committee as the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Jackson, along with Assistant Secretary Myers, stated that FPS would be able to operate within the funding currently available when this was clearly not the case. Agency officials had an excellent opportunity to stand with AFGE Local 918 and press Congress for more funding for FPS and a change to the antiquated funding process that currently is the primary hindrance to FPS’ ability to effectively protect Federal property.

It was AFGE alone who lobbied Congress for more money and additional personnel. The Agency eliminated our retention allowances and overtime opportunities, pressured FPS Police Officers to transition to Inspector positions or leave FPS, gave large cash bonuses to managers and effectively reduced morale to its lowest level in recent history. Make no mistake, it is Agency officials who are solely responsible for the issues that plague FPS. It is the union, with the support of its members, who fought hard to save FPS and ensure the viability of FPS to perform its mission.

This May, we can expect to see GAO’s final report on the ability of FPS to protect Federal properties. AFGE Local 918 expects that the report will continue to highlight the many shortcomings and challenges that FPS faces and will continue to face unless immediate action is taken. The union expects that Congress will hold hearings and will seek to correct the deficiencies of FPS through the legislative process to ensure that FPS can more effectively protect our Federal buildings, employees and visitors from crime and terrorist attack.

It is time for the Agency to look at the facts and realize that their plan is not working and it is placing Federal buildings at greater risk. Agency officials, who continue to implement this flawed plan to downsize FPS, cut services and otherwise reduce the effectiveness of FPS to safeguard Federal property should be held accountable. Should another attack occur, we should be able to say we did all we could and not have another Commission point out the many obvious flaws that led or contributed to the attack. With the Agency’s current plan, the union believes that we are far from doing all we can to deter and prevent another attack.

The time for change is now! AFGE Local 918 calls upon DHS, ICE and FPS Leadership to sit down with the union and work with us to come up with an effective strategy for the future. Rest assured, the union will continue to press Congress to provide the resources FPS needs to effectively accomplish our mission.

Stay Safe!

Jim W.

James P. Ward
Secretary / R2 Regional Point of Contact
AFGE Local 918-Federal Protective Service

Pros fear new towers at WTC site have security gaps.

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The General Services Administration has leased approximately 645,000 sq. ft. of the Freedom Tower.

Pros fear new towers at World Trade Center site have security gaps

by greg b. smith and douglas feiden
daily news staff writers

Sunday, February 24th 2008, 4:00 AM

Law enforcement officials have major concerns about security weaknesses in the planned World Trade Center complex, a Daily News investigation has found.

The potential problems expressed to the Port Authority and others involved in the most high-profile development project in New York City history include:

– A row of three mostly glass towers positioned too closely to city streets, increasing their vulnerability to attack.

– Difficulties in inspecting some 2,000 delivery trucks and sightseeing buses that will enter or leave the site daily.

– A vehicle security center that hasn’t been fully designed and relies on vehicle inspection technology that hasn’t even been developed yet.

Asked about weaknesses uncovered by The News in the plans for rebuilding Ground Zero, Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said, “The NYPD has been in talks with the Port Authority, but we don’t disclose any information about possible security vulnerabilities for obvious reasons.”

Port Authority spokesman Stephen Sigmund said the agency is “very confident that the entire rebuilt WTC site – every building and every square inch – will operate with an unprecedented level of safety and security.”

Michael Balboni, Gov. Spitzer’s deputy secretary for public safety, emphasized, “At the end of the day, this will be one of the most secure footprints on the globe.”

Law enforcement counterterrorism specialists have pinpointed serious flaws in key components of the Trade Center site, including three of the signature office towers projected to open by 2012.

Towers 2, 3 and 4 – which will rise between Greenwich and Church Sts. to 79, 71 and 64 stories, respectively – contain too much glass, sources familiar with the issues said.

They also are not set back far enough from the two streets – where uninspected trucks will whiz by – to meet the most rigorous security standards, the sources said.

“The reimposition of the street grid is an integral part of the plan to bring vibrancy to lower Manhattan,” said Avi Schick, chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.

“The administration understands the need to balance that goal with legitimate security concerns.”

Another concern: The buildings do not meet Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security blast standards. That means they can withstand certain types of explosions – but not more powerful blasts.

The DOD blast standards – rarely applied to U.S. skyscrapers – are typically used in U.S. embassies and missions abroad, sensitive government facilities and military bases.

Counterterrorism officials contend that because of the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, and Al Qaeda’s pattern of repeatedly striking targets, DOD blast standards should be used in the Ground Zero buildings.

“The plans have been out for quite a while on these buildings, and it would have been nice to voice these concerns at the start rather than wait until now,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents lower Manhattan. “The community wants to move forward.”

A spokesman for Larry Silverstein, the developer of the three towers, declined to comment on security issues.

Silverstein’s buildings – including a 1,270-foot giant that will be taller than the Empire State Building – have been designed with a steel-encased concrete core and engineered with safety systems exceeding the city’s building code and the requirements of the Port Authority, his company says.

The Freedom Tower’s extra safety measures – including being set back farther from the street, thicker glass and upgraded blast standards – were done after the NYPD raised questions about the building’s weaknesses. Similar changes were made to the trade center’s transportation hub after issues arose.

Asked about the overall effort to ensure the new trade center is secure, James Kallstrom, the former director of the FBI’s New York office and former Gov. George Pataki’s homeland security chief, said: “It’s complicated. It’s a very crowded area. It’s not easy … It’s going to require state-of-the-art technology and competent, trained manpower.”

The need for screening every single truck entering the area and the difficulties of carefully managing inspections were key issues Kallstrom addressed in a report he completed before leaving government last year.

Kallstrom and Balboni declined to discuss the report’s recommendations, though Balboni said most were being implemented.

While inspecting thousands of vehicles a day is tough enough, the problem is more complicated in lower Manhattan because of narrow streets and thick traffic.

“We can’t let anything enter the underground in that acreage that could have the potential for certain size devices or bombs without proper screening,” Kallstrom said.

All delivery trucks and buses will access the complex through a new Vehicular Security Center, an underground complex with an entrance and exit on Liberty St. that will function as the central security checkpoint.

The $478 million project has been on the drawing boards since 2003 and was to start last April, but all the Port Authority has done is move some utilities and sewer lines.

Delays in demolition of the toxic former Deutsche Bank tower have made it close to impossible for construction of the subterranean project to begin.

Bids for a contractor haven’t gone out, and excavation of the so-called south bathtub for the center hasn’t begun, the bistate agency confirmed.

“Obviously, the fact that [Deutsche Bank] is not down presents some serious challenges to the VSC,” Sigmund said.

There’s more: The design and engineering specifications, which the Port Authority said in 2006 were being finalized, are not ready, and the screening technology does not exist.

Nevertheless, the PA said the Vehicular Security Center is set to be finished when the other buildings come on line, by 2011 or 2012.

“We will have the appropriate technology to do the screening when the VSC is completed,” Sigmund said, noting the facility will meet DOD and Homeland Security standards.

Sigmund said they would inspect vehicles “off-site or in a holding area if necessary,” declining to specify where it would take place.

That’s a nightmare scenario for downtown residents, who say they’re worried the Sept. 11 museum and other buildings will open before the Vehicular Security Center is completed, compromising security and the quality of life.

Asked if he was troubled the center has fallen behind schedule, Balboni said: “I’m not concerned yet, but that could change. We’re watching it very closely.”

DHS abandons proposed labor relations system

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DHS has made the wise decision to abandon its flawed labor relations program that violated DHS employees’ legal rights to collective bargaining.

DHS abandons proposed labor relations system
By Alyssa Rosenberg arosenberg@govexec.com February 15, 2008

The Homeland Security Department told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Friday that it will not implement labor relations rules related to its new personnel system before the department’s authority to do so expires in January 2009.

DHS and the Office of Personnel Management “will not revise the permanently enjoined regulations…at any time prior to the expiration of the agencies’ authority to revise those regulations,” the department wrote in its court filing. “DHS will proceed with labor relations pursuant to applicable law.”

Federal labor union leaders applauded the move. “This is a monumental victory,” said National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley. “It puts to rest DHS efforts to gut employees’ collective bargaining rights and give management unfettered discretion to alter fundamental conditions of employment without giving employees any say.”

The department filed a status report with the court in January saying that it had not made a decision yet on whether to proceed with revising the labor relations rules. In June 2006, the court extended the deadline for DHS to make its decision.

A number of factors forced Homeland Security’s hand. The fiscal 2008 omnibus spending package allocated no funds for the personnel system, effectively blocking the department from implementing the new rules. And in June 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declared that the proposed labor relations program violated DHS employees’ legal rights to collective bargaining.

“From the beginning, it was clear that DHS intended to trample on [bargaining] rights,” NTEU’s Kelley said. “Under any circumstances, and in particular in an agency where the morale has been so low for so long, imposing such a system would have been a serious mistake.”

Kelley said the union planned to fight to prevent any other elements of the personnel system from being put in place.

Cuts hobble Federal Protective Service

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An article appeared in the Federal Times about the FPS and the GAO’s preliminary findings testimony. David Wright, AFGE Local 918 President, is quoted in the article.

Cuts hobble Federal Protective Service
By TIM KAUFFMAN
Federal Times
February 18, 2008
When Congress agreed in November 2002 to move the Federal Protective Service to the newly created Homeland Security Department, the goals were laudable: to improve the protection of employees and visitors at 8,800 federal buildings nationwide and raise the stature of police officers and inspectors at the agency.
Instead, the results have been alarming.

The agency has been underfunded since moving from the General Services Administration five years ago next month. Broken equipment such as cameras, metal detectors and radios haven’t been repaired. Quit rates have skyrocketed, particularly among police officers who are the first line of defense against criminal or terrorist acts at federal workplaces.

“It’s mind-boggling how you can go from a law enforcement agency managed by realty professionals into the Department of Homeland Security, which you would think would be the solution, and we’re faced with yet larger problems,” said David Wright, an inspector stationed in Kansas City, Mo., who heads the American Federation of Government Employees union representing FPS employees.

In a preliminary report on the agency, the Government Accountability Office described an agency unable to perform its mission:
— At one vacant federal building that was not identified, a dead homeless man went undetected for three months until a GSA official went into the building with a prospective buyer. Names and locations of this and other buildings cited in the report where security lapses were found were not identified for security reasons.
— A large federal building under the highest level of security saw its FPS security force dwindle from six to zero.
— At one region visited by GAO, contract guards at about 70 buildings had been unsupervised for six months since the FPS inspector responsible for those buildings had retired.
— At another large federal building requiring the highest security, only 11 of 150 security cameras were fully functional.

FPS Director Gary Schenkel does not dispute the GAO findings, and says the answer is to integrate what has essentially been two separate functions within the agency: patrolling and responding to crimes within buildings, and assessing each building’s security threat to determine what countermeasures are needed.

This effort, which Schenkel launched soon after arriving last March, aims to ultimately phase out FPS police officers in favor of inspectors who can perform both the security assessment and law enforcement functions.
“Every inspector is a certified sworn law enforcement officer, plus they have additional expertise and certification to truly look at that integrated security program,” Schenkel said.

Prior to this job, Schenkel served as assistant federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration at Chicago Midway Airport. A retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, Schenkel said he would like all of FPS’ 215 police officers to convert to inspectors, although he realizes there are some “hardcore police officers” who won’t switch. They won’t be forced out. The agency converted about 40 police officers to inspectors last year and intends to convert another 75 this year, he said.

The move worries some people inside and outside the agency who believe the agency should have dedicated police officers actively patrolling buildings and responding to incidents.

Except in a few locations, FPS no longer patrols inside and outside of federal buildings to detect and prevent criminal incidents and terrorism-related activities, GAO said. Instead, they mostly respond to security incidents. In addition, FPS regional offices have reduced their hours of operation in many locations, resulting in a lack of coverage when most federal employees are either entering or leaving federal buildings.

Officers told GAO the reduction in police presence has had negative consequences, such as leaving federal day care facilities vulnerable to loitering by homeless individuals and drug users, increasing the time it takes for FPS to respond to incidents from a few hours to a couple of days, and placing FPS officers and inspectors in greater danger because they lack the manpower required for backup.

Reliance on local law enforcement
FPS intends to cover gaps in building security by relying on local law enforcement. However, FPS acknowledged to GAO that it has not signed any agreements with local law enforcement agencies to provide such security. Nor has it resolved jurisdictional barriers that prohibit local police from responding to incidents at federal facilities.
Schenkel told Federal Times there are no jurisdictional issues and local law enforcement agencies can respond to incidents at nearly all federal buildings under FPS’ primary control.

But expecting local law enforcement agencies to take on the additional duties of patrolling federal facilities and responding to incidents there without providing them additional funding is “misguided,” said Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, a lobbying organization in Alexandria, Va., that represents 238,000 officers nationwide.

“The state law enforcement officers and certainly the local and municipal officers have got their hands full as it is. To ask them or just kind of assume that the officers who are already working for counties or municipalities are going to be able to just take on this additional burden, off the shoulders of the federal government, is a little naïve,” Johnson said.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, state and local police departments have been taking on more duties — such as border security, infrastructure protection, illegal immigration enforcement and anti-terrorism — that were previously the domain of federal law enforcement. At the same time, they’re getting substantially less money from the federal government. For instance, Justice Department grants to local law enforcement agencies have declined 40 percent since 2002.

As a result, police departments in many large cities — including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and Detroit — have cut their forces by several thousand each in the last few years.

“Most people don’t realize it, but New York City has thousands of fewer officers today than it did on 9/11,” Johnson said.

An FPS inspector in the Washington office who asked not to be identified said morale in the agency has steadily worsened since Schenkel was brought on board. Schenkel, who has no prior uniformed police experience, replaced Wendell Shingler, a former cop and security chief at the Marshals Service. Although many problems at the agency occurred under Shingler’s watch, he had earned respect among employees for trying to enhance the agency’s police officer function.

“The folks they’ve hired aren’t into law enforcement. They’re all into information gathering,” the inspector said.

Misplaced, poorly funded
FPS didn’t fit well within its previous parent agency. GSA is predominantly a procurement and real estate management agency. But the agency is equally ostracized within Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, where the primary mission is to enforce immigration laws, Wright said.
The initial rationale was that FPS would fit well with other law enforcement organizations within ICE, but Wright said it’s become a head-scratcher for most people.

“That is the first question I get from every congressional staffer and every reporter I talk to,” he said. “We are basically low man on the totem pole. The agency is run by legacy immigration and customs enforcement officers who have zero regard for the FPS mission. I think we would be much more at home in a section of DHS such as [the Office of] Infrastructure Protection.”

Schenkel concedes the pairing seems odd, but said it has proved useful in several ways. FPS’ back-office functions, including financing and acquisition, have been integrated into ICE’s system. And FPS officers have arrested a steady number of illegal immigrants who have entered federal facilities.

Wright said the agency also needs a dedicated funding source. FPS’ income comes from service fees charged to agencies through rent assessed by GSA. But that revenue is not covering the bills for FPS. The agency had budget shortfalls of $70 million in fiscal 2005 and $57 million in fiscal 2006, causing it to institute a variety of cost-saving measures such as restricting hiring and travel, limiting training and overtime, forgoing the purchase of new radios and canceling employee performance awards.

The agency this year raised its basic security fee 46 percent, to 57 cents per square foot, and plans another one-cent hike in 2009.

FPS told GAO that its cost-cutting measures have hurt the agency by depressing employee morale, increasing attrition and making it harder to attract new employees.
Schenkel told Federal Times the agency has made some headway in resolving its financial problems. Last summer, the agency eradicated a backlog of 2,200 past due invoices — totaling $92 million — for contract guard services that dated back to 1999.

“We were losing money, and as we are a fee-for-service [agency], that money that we were paying in interest equated to things that we couldn’t do, like give our officers new equipment, provide training, give awards,” he said.

Last year was the first year since 2004 that the agency paid its employees annual performance awards and was the first year since moving to Homeland Security that the agency had no budget shortfall.
Attrition is down from what GAO reported, and the agency plans to hire 20 to 25 new inspectors by the end of September, he said.

Still, Schenkel said the agency has a long way to go to restore some of the damage done to employee morale.
“I always make a naval analogy. It takes 38 miles to turn an aircraft carrier at sea. I’m not trying to paint a perfect picture because we’ve got a long, long way to go, but we’re two miles into that 38-mile turn. The good news is we’re two miles in, because last year we hadn’t even initiated the turn,” he said.

Judiciary wants new guards
But the turnaround at FPS appears to be taking too long for FPS’ biggest customer: the federal courts.
Last March, the Judicial Conference said it had “serious concerns” about FPS’ ability to provide perimeter security at federal courthouses and voted to support legislative efforts to make the Justice Department’s Marshals Service responsible for security. The Marshals Service currently provides security inside federal courthouses, while FPS is responsible for posting guards outside courthouses and maintaining security cameras that survey courthouse grounds.

In the fiscal 2008 appropriations bill, Congress authorized the Marshals Service to assume perimeter security functions at five courthouses under a test case. Courts spokeswoman Karen Redmond said the program will be rolled out between May and September at courthouses that have yet to be determined. The program is expected to last between 12 and 18 months and, if successful, could result in the Marshals Service taking over for FPS at all courthouses.

Report Criticizes Federal Police Force

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The police force in charge of protecting most federal buildings is understaffed, demoralized and poorly equipped, exposing facilities in the D.C. area and elsewhere “to a greater risk of crime or terrorist attack,” according to a GAO report issued on February 8, 2008 and as reported in the Washington Post.

AFGE Local 918-FPS has been saying this for the past couple of years. A major funding shortfall, a flawed funding mechanism, a significant and continuing reduction in staff, and poor management are among a number of issues that must be addressed to ensure our Nation’s Federal buildings, employees and visitors to these facilities are properly protected. Congress must act to reform the Federal Protective Service and stop DHS from continuing to dismantle FPS.

Welcome to the AFGE Local 918-FPS Blog

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Welcome to our blog. This blog will help us communicate to our members and the general public. For more information about AFGE Local 918, visit our website at www.afgelocal918.org.