July 8th, 2009
03:48 PM ET
5 years ago

Director takes blame over lax security at federal buildings

 A GAO report cites lax security in federal buildings after investigators got bomb components past guards.
A GAO report cites lax security in federal buildings after investigators got bomb components past guards.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A contrite head of the Federal Protective Service took the blame Wednesday for security lapses that allowed covert investigators to sneak bomb components into 10 federal government buildings.

The Government Accountability Office, which conducted the tests, testified they showed the service to be "an agency in crisis."

Plainclothes investigators testing the effectiveness of private contract guards at federal office buildings were able to smuggle in bomb components in all 10 attempts. Only one investigator was stopped and questioned, but he was allowed to pass with the components of a liquid bomb.

Once inside the facilities, the testers assembled the bombs in restrooms, put them in briefcases and "walked freely" into government offices, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Asked point blank at a Senate hearing Wednesday why the security guards had failed, Protective Service Director Gary Schenkel said, "It's purely a lack of oversight on our part."

He added, "I take full responsibility. I am the director of the organization."

Schenkel, who assumed his post in early 2007, said the police force was hampered earlier this decade by major budget cuts, which forced the agency to reorganize how it protects 9,000 federal facilities nationwide. While police officers formerly protected federal buildings, the agency now uses a core cadre of 1,200 sworn federal officers or "inspectors" to oversee a small army of about 13,000 private security guards who man the X-ray machines and magnetometers at building entrances.

While the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday put out an official statement focusing on steps the Federal Protective Service is taking to improve the situation, Schenkel was at times more negative, outlining some of the problems the agency faces. The service, he said, used a "stubby pencil" system to keep track of guards, and it would take a "full year, I believe" for changes being made now to have an impact.

"When I came here I made an analogy that we were a ship, and it takes 38 miles at sea to turn a ship, an aircraft carrier. I think we are probably on mile six but we've certainly initiated the turn," he said.

Mark Goldstein of the General Accounting Office testified about the investigators' operations.

"We brought in all the components that we needed to make a real bomb," he said, though the concentration of explosives was "below the trigger point" for safety reasons. Investigators obtained the components at local stores and over the Internet for less than $150, the report says.

"In a number of the locations - three or four of them - the guards were not even looking at the screens that would show materials passing through," Goldstein said.

"If a guard had been looking, they would have seen materials that are ordinarily not brought into a federal building, and should have stopped our investigators and asked 'Why are you bringing these kinds of things into a fed building, and what is your purpose.' But in really no case did that occur.

"In only one instance did a guard ask about something that an investigator was carrying, (and) after a brief explanation that guard let it go through," Goldstein said.

The covert agents then assembled bombs in the bathrooms, he said. "In some cases, bathrooms were locked, but federal employees let us in," he said.

Having assembled the bomb, typically in less than four minutes, the agents placed it an a briefcase "and walked around a variety of federal offices - both legislative branch offices and executive branch offices in the four cities we went to," Goldstein said.

He blamed the lapses on what he called an "antiquated approach" to security, saying federal building security is directed in part by the buildings' tenants, who form a committee to determine the appropriate level of security. So decisions are made "by people who frankly ought not be making them," he said.

He also said security is "budget driven, it's not risk driven."

But he shied away from recommending that the contract security jobs be federalized, a move the government took for airport security screeners following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That would be a policy decision, he said.

But he said the Protective Service was lax in assuring that security standards it set were followed by the private contract guards. Of 663 randomly selected guards, 411, or 62 percent, were missing some form of required certification, such as an up-to-date firearm qualification, background investigation or CPR or first aid training.

Included in the General Accounting Office report is a photograph of a guard asleep at his post.

The report also detailed an instance in which a woman placed an infant in a carrier on an X-ray machine while retrieving identification. Because the guard was not paying attention and the machine's safety features had been disabled, the infant was sent through the X-ray machine, according to the report.

The Protective Service dismissed the guard, who, as a result, sued the agency for failing to provide X-ray training. The agency lost the suit because it could not prove that the guard had been trained, the report says.

In one region, the service "has not provided the required eight hours of (X-ray) or magnetometer training to its 1,500 guards since 2004," the report says.

It report also says the service does not have a national guidance on how often its inspectors should check on the contract guards. In several instances when inspectors have checked on guards, they found "instances of guards not complying with post orders."

In one case, the report says, a guard was caught using government computers to manage a for-profit adult Web site.

All of the buildings involved in the bomb smuggling test were "Level IV" buildings, meaning they house more than 450 federal employees and have a high volume of public contact. The General Accounting Office has declined to identify the specific buildings "because of the sensitivity of some of the information," the report says.

After the report was obtained by CNN late Tuesday, ahead of its release Wednesday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Connecticut, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, called the test results "simply unacceptable."

Added Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, "In this post-911 world that we're now living in, I can not imagine how security lapses of this magnitude were allowed to occur. "

Both Lieberman and Collins said they were putting the Federal Protective Service on a list of "high risk" agencies and asked Schenkel to provide them with details of how he would fix the security lapses.

Although the investigators ensured that bombs assembled in the buildings would not explode, they later videotaped the detonation of several of the devices at a remote site to demonstrate the their destructive power.


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soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    The staff needs to speak up as well when they realize they haven't been trained. It is good that some of them do it, but all need to take the responsibility. The managers need to understand that lives are in their hands. Without the training, the guards can't do their jobs. This is embarressing.

    July 8, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  2. stormerF

    The director needs to be fired and the guards let go. There is no good reason to sleep on the job,especially if your a security guard.

    July 8, 2009 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  3. LB in FL

    Yet another Federal agency that Bush ruined along with the rest of the country. But wait....the rethugs will blame it on Obama...again. Amazing isn't it?

    July 8, 2009 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  4. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Heads gotta roll. The guy in the picture looks practically sleep. Now what if this wasn't a test?

    Government Accountability Office – hold these idiots accountable!

    July 8, 2009 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  5. Rick

    Marvin P. Bush, the president’s younger brother, was a principal in a company called Securacom that provided security for the World Trade Center, United Airlines, and Dulles International Airport. The company, Burns noted, was backed by KuwAm, a Kuwaiti-American investment firm on whose board Marvin Bush also served.

    July 8, 2009 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  6. lucy2

    I agree, this is terribly embarrassing. For all the money and time spent on Homeland Security, it doesn't make much difference if the guard on duty is snoozing.
    Employees need to speak up if they're not being properly trained, and management needs to make sure the training is done and people are doing their jobs. If they're not, they're out – there are plenty of people who would gladly do the work instead.

    July 8, 2009 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  7. Donna from Colorado Springs

    He had better take the blame! Just what has the government accomplished to insure our safety since 9/11? Nothing!

    July 8, 2009 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  8. Ms. Johnson, Pearland,Texas

    Taking full responsibility is not enough, turn in your resignation.

    Their are so many people who would love to have a decent job, and would not go to sleep on the job, This one person becomes the face of the entire department, how sad.

    July 8, 2009 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  9. kay

    Pathetic...

    July 8, 2009 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  10. Bubba

    Guards aren't going to deter a crazy person on the attack anyway, but they should be able to keep an eye out for criminals. I'm less worried about the Mad Bomber of Manhattan than I am about burglars and rapists strolling around these buildings. Wait until a bunch of homeless guys steal all the copper wire in their building – now THAT will be embarrassing.

    July 8, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  11. Michael M, Phoenix AZ

    They are more stringent at the airports and have a cow if you have anything larger than "travel size" tube of toothpaste, not to mention they can bust open your luggage at the other end of the flight and "inspect" your stuff without regard to how the "open" it.

    July 8, 2009 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  12. GI Joe

    Is this the same security that "kept us so safe" all these years? Or have they only been on the job since February?.

    Need more information so we can blame he right president.

    Your journalists are NOT asking all the questions they should, CNN. Asleep on the job?

    July 8, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  13. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    I suggest that this blog doesn't stay up long. How about not reporting this. This is just going to give some McVeigh copycat ideas.

    I recommend federal buildings be guarded by veterans in need of employment.

    July 8, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  14. Average Guy in Kansas

    Let's see, what are the words I'm searching for?? Homeland... Homeland something. Oh yeah, Homeland Security.

    This is not hard to believe. Many years ago I walked into the federal Building in Houston, Texas with a cardboard box under my arm. On all six sides the box was written the word "BOMB!". No one stopped me.

    The clock is ticking...

    July 8, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  15. Michael M, Phoenix AZ

    In order to work in any Arizona school, one must pass a background check and obtain a fingerprint card issued by the Dept of Public Service, plus the school districts will also run a background check.

    July 8, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  16. kj

    Boy, do I feel even safer now! This is what you get when you hire minimum wage rent-a-cops to protect Federal Buildings. Wake up!!

    July 8, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  17. ProgressivelyMinded

    So what! Government control is still better than private enterprises!!

    July 8, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  18. Felonious Monk

    "I take full responsibility. I am the director of the organization."

    Which means he will pass the buck first chance he gets. Full responsibility in government means accepting no real responsibility at all.

    July 8, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  19. Ekbaaaaaaal from NC

    This comment is for John Boehner and his comments on Stimulus:

    Boehner bahenchod – where were you when Bush ruined the country with the Iraq war????

    where were you when Cantor was pucking Britney form behind and Bush was doing front and back and back and front and then 69 and blah blah blah for the last 6 years to ALL your fellow countrymen esp. the ones served / still serving the forces????

    were you in a rat hole????????

    maake loude

    July 8, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  20. Scott, Tucson

    I like that photo of the sleeping security guard, it pretty much sums up this administration, sleeping on the job when it comes to national security.

    July 8, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  21. george from alaska

    ...forget about a security scandal...john boehner (along with mccain & bush) are having the cia secretly implant them with fetuses so they can carry them to term with no abortion (like palin) since that appears to be the major qualification for a successful republican politcal strategy

    July 8, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  22. Chris

    So what's so different from this government agency than any other? They're all living off of our tax dollars, working easier jobs, getting better health care, getting better retirement programs, ........ and now we have a socialistic idiot who wants to take more tax dollars from working people and give it to people who will not work, give it to state and local governments who can't manage their own tax dollars, and make plenty of trips that won't amount to a hill of beans in a corn field! Let's not jump too hard on one agency when we should be stomping on our entire government with both feet.

    July 8, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  23. Zero.

    You don't listen America!!! The Pope is German. Alies since 1940 plus.

    The Church owns most of the land in Europe Germany owns Italy. Most of the Euro....
    You elected a Muslim... An Arab. Not Catholic.,

    July 8, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  24. DawnL,CA

    Unbelievable! They should all be fired. Give the jobs to the vets.

    July 8, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  25. Corporate Coup D'tat 2001 is why we are not safe

    When I say trillions have been stolen since the summer of 2000, I mean tens maybe hundreds of trillions. Kernal of truth: The Pentagon was missing two trillion from their coffers, when those convenient terrorists in caves, who hate our freedom, wiped the paper trail clean, for ever white collar crook in NY City and beyond. That's not forget our friends in Enron, who die from heart attacks going to their graves silent. Kinda like the Dc Madam? Don't worry I'm sure those yacht clubs in the Cook Islands are just hurting for our stimulus. This reshuffling of the cards, has wiped out 40% of the world's wealth and consolidated the rest at the top. Somebody hated our freedom..... but I guess that's a conspiracy theory.

    July 8, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
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