Another bill to revamp federal building security

Lieberman and other members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Monday introduced a bill to reform the Federal Protective Service, a small unit of the Department of Homeland Security that provides security for about 1.5 million federal workers at 9,000 federal facilities with a mix of 800 full-time federal inspectors and 15,000 private security guards. The agency also drafts building security plans for federal tenants.

But last summer the committee blasted FPS for serious security gaps after government auditors successfully entered 10 major federal buildings with bombmaking materials.

"In all the years I've been hearing GAO reports, that's about the broadest indictment of an agency of the federal government that I've heard and it's not pleasant to hear it," Lieberman said at a July 2009 hearing on the findings. "We're obviously going to try to work together with the agency to improve its performance."

Lieberman aides promised legislation within weeks, but last November's Ft. Hood shooting, the failed Christmas Day airplane bomb attack and the thwarted Times Square bomb attempt pulled staffers away from drafting a bill.

Now, with precious days left for Congress to complete, well, anything, Lieberman, Susan Collins (R-Maine), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) want FPS to hire 500 new full-time workers and to establish new national training standards for private guards, including at least 80 hours of training before they start. And in an effort to strike a better balance between security concerns and easy public access to government buildings, the senators also proposed a way for agencies to appeal FPS security plans if the measures potentially hinder public access.

The proposed Senate bill is similar to a House proposal unveiled last week that would allow FPS to hire 550 new workers, require the agency to establish national training standards and explore ways to federalize private security guards.

One big difference: The Senate bill gives full-time FPS inspectors the right to carry their weapons when off-duty, something long-sought by their union representatives.

No official word on how quickly the bills will advance or whether they may be merged into a Homeland Security authorization bill, as some aides private suggest.

"The senator is hoping for lame duck passage, but is fully aware of all the traps that lie ahead," said Lieberman spokeswoman Leslie Phillips. With little time left for lawmakers to move any legislation, it's likely federal building security will remain an unsolved issue, leaving millions of federal workers at risk.

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