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

Director takes blame over lax security at federal buildings

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/07/07/federal.buildings.security/art.federal.guard.gao.jpg caption=" 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. M. (Miami, FL)

    I'm glad someone working in the public eye is able to man-up and take responsibility for once.

    July 8, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  2. Angus McDugan

    This guy is the poster boy of the Obama administration.

    July 8, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  3. nitro

    The same people that are responding to this article are the same people that complain about having to show their ID or show up and dont have an ID but expect to still gain access to the building. Then go and complain that the Security guard was being rude and the Company for fear of loosing a government contract discipline the wrong person. By the way the person that suggested that the building be guarded by veterans, most of the security guards aroung DC are vets, so there goes that theory.

    July 8, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  4. Amanda

    Rick- You should be ashamed of yourself. Honestly.

    Also, don't blame this one on Bush, everyone. He isn't responsible for the hiring and oversight of every Federal employee. If this happened on Obama's clock you would be saying the exact same thing. You can't blame every little thing on George W.

    July 8, 2009 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  5. David

    The security of federal buildings need to be done by federal employees. It's a waste of money to pay a third party company who is ONLY focused on profit, to secure the lives of our elected officials and federal employees. There was no training because it would mean less corporate profits and bonuses.

    The Bush Administration's outsourcing of our government to their private industry campaign contributors has failed on many levels. From soldiers for hire, to airport security, and now this.

    It's just good that this administration is evaluating every aspect of the previous administrations actions and quickly finding solutions.

    The security of federal buildings need to be by federal security officers. PERIOD!

    July 8, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  6. walleye

    All these people need to be FIRED. Bring in the MARINES and let them handle this job. They will do it with dedication and shoot anyone dead that does not comply with their orders. Enlisted men are getting paid to be in the service anyway. They will do a great job.

    July 8, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  7. Tulsa

    wow, someone taking responsibility?
    sure didn't see that the last 8 years.

    July 8, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  8. George the Democrat Obama fanatic.

    They need to unblurr his face.

    July 8, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  9. Chris

    this is sad, i think these jobs need to go to Vets. who served our country.

    July 8, 2009 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  10. Fla.

    While I appreciate Schenkel holding himself accountable, this unfortunately is not surprising from a certain incompetence leftover from the Bush administration. He should be replaced immediately.

    ROB Ohio (previous thread),

    Please look at a GDP graph, (not revisionist history). FDR's New Deal brought our country out of the Great Depression until he listened to Republicans and stopped spending in 1937, which caused a short recession until spending resumed. Look it up.

    July 8, 2009 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  11. Meh

    Angus...that doesn't even make sense.

    July 8, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  12. Corporate Coup D'tat 2001 is why we are not safe

    Dutch/Bad Newz, VA
    When you say Mcveigh copycat, do you mean the FBI or Army Intelligence, it's all so confusing when they're stacking bodies to justify propping up a Rogue Police State, and cracking down on all those white al quada gun owners and rascist militia men. Don't worry they've killed enough innocent people now, they probably will get there opus: a mushroom cloud on a major city. How else do you fix this economic crisis? Rand Corporation says World War Three would work pretty well. Don't worry, I'm sure they'll still have reality tv to drop that IQ another five points. Depressed? They have a pill for that, and with government mandated healthcare, you'll take it whether you want to or not.

    July 8, 2009 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  13. Yabet

    That is what happends when the contract is given to the lowest bidder. Not only that they need to pay the officers a decent wage to attract people that will do the job.

    Do people really expect anything more from people that are making barely more then min. wage?

    July 8, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  14. MD

    Time for some folks to go. Director, sleeping guards. All of them. Not being trained plays a part in the failures but certainly not for the man asleep in the picture.

    July 8, 2009 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  15. Scott, Tucson

    Maybe Obama is filling the guard positions with former ACORN employees?

    July 8, 2009 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  16. Liz

    Any Federal Employee could tell you that this is true about most contract security. It has been a problem for years and not the fault of the Obama Admin as some may yell about. He has been in office just over six months.

    As for the guards themselves speaking up about lack of training, whistleblowers are retaliated against. They have no protection for their jobs as the Fed Employees do and are scared to speak up. I would be too. I actaully wish that they should make these jobs federal and not private contract as they are not.

    Oh and most fed employees work full days and pay taxes like everyone else. In a sense feds pay for their own salaries. So don't assume someone is lazy because the work for the Federal Government.

    July 8, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  17. Randolph Carter

    That's what you get when you privatize things like security and give them to the lowest bidder. Have a nice day! See y'all Tuesday, I'm going on vacation. No, I'm not hiking the Appalachian trail.

    July 8, 2009 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  18. Sad but true.

    In this portrayal of the situation you see a specific, guided tale. And although a truth, another truth is that these people are so fundementally restrained from doing their jobs for fear of being fired, disciplined or sued for "violating" the rights of Momobisha with the bhurka on(whos cousin is no longer because he blew himself up) or Achmed with the turbin on (because, alas his brother also blew himself up) or John the homosexual who keeps the strange, odd looking sex device in his briefcase. When all is said and done a proud, upstanding, honest American smiles and understands the slight inconvenience for good of God, Country and security. As for Momobisha, Achmed and John – An all expenses paid vacation to Iran would be a fit place for this scum.

    July 8, 2009 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  19. JCO

    The exact same caliber federal employees will be administiring and running in our spiffy new Government-run health-care system!

    July 8, 2009 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  20. Justin, MD

    This is 100% George W. Bush's fault. That's right I said 100% because he's the one who sold the government, lock, stock and barrel to CONTRACTORS.

    Federal workers would not jeopardize their jobs by sleeping, but contractors will. Contractors are the ones who were caught rummaging through candidates records at the IRS and other agencies.

    July 8, 2009 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  21. wally

    The guy in the picture needs to clean his desk.

    July 8, 2009 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  22. Foolish, Foolish, Foolish

    Unfortunately this man is the one who should take the blame–not Obama.

    His face should not be covered up. What can he do, sue? I don't think so, he WAS sleeping and he WAS on the job. The truth is the best defense.

    With the Holocaust Museum incident still fresh in our minds, and the young man who was senselessly killed, we should beef up security, not get complacent.

    July 8, 2009 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
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