(WASHINGTON) – Today, David Wright, president of the union representing Federal Protective Service (FPS) personnel, testified before Congress on the chronic challenges facing the agency, including dramatic staff shortages and an under-managed, under-trained contract workforce. In addition to serving as president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 918, Wright has been an employee of the Federal Protective Service for 23 years.
Over the past two years, the FPS has been examined six times by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). In each study, GAO concluded that the agency is unable to fulfill its mission because of internal challenges. The union is now calling on Congress to act to protect the employees and facilities of the federal government.
“The recent attacks on the Pentagon, an IRS building in Austin, and federal courthouses in Las Vegas and Kansas City serve as wake up calls to both the administration and the Congress that the time for discussion, studies and years of reports is over,” said Wright. “Action is required now, not after the next major terrorist attack.”
The Federal Protective Service is crippled by a severe lack of trained personnel. In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, the federal government determined that a minimum of 1,480 FPS personnel were necessary to perform the agency’s mission. In the 15 years since that terrorist attack, the agency has never reached that level of personnel. In fact, since the development of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, the total number of inspectors and police officer positions has dropped from 1,017 to 830 – a reduction of over 18 percent.
Congress recognized the need for a robust security workforce when it congressionally mandated that FPS have no fewer than 1,200 fulltime equivalent staff and 900 fulltime equivalent police officers, inspectors, area commanders, and special agents in the FY2010 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act. At its current staffing levels the agency fails both of these standards.
“The current staffing levels make it impossible for FPS personnel to securely protect federal buildings and employees. The agency cuts mean that we are no longer able to operate on a 24 hour patrol basis, even when protecting high level security facilities,” said Wright. “Unfortunately, terrorists and criminals don’t work banker’s hours, not having around the clock surveillance leaves serious gaps in our ability to provide security.”
The agency has attempted to fill its staffing gap with contract guards, but this desperate measure only aggravates the problem. The number of contract guards monitoring federal facilities has exploded over the past decade, from 5,000 in 2001 to 15,000 in 2009. However, these contract guards lack the necessary training and authority to effectively protect high level security targets. “While the agency has exponentially increased the level of contract guards, it cut FPS staff. The result is that there simply are not enough FPS personnel to train or supervise the contract guards.” The gaps in training were revealed in a GAO test where investigators were able to enter federal facilities with bomb making materials.
“In order to overcome the many challenges facing the agency, it is essential that FPS rely on frontline leadership to deliver both law enforcement and security services to properly protect Federal workplaces,” Wright said. Wright urged the Committee to increase the number of Series 0083 FPS Police officers as a way of restoring the agency’s ability to adequately perform contract oversight. The Union is also urging Congress to change the existing funding structure and appropriate the funding necessary to secure federal facilities – as opposed to the current fee funding scheme.
“Federal employees deserve the right to feel safe at work,” said Wright. “As threats against federal employees and federal buildings continue, it is essential that the administration and the Congress take all steps necessary to ensure their protection.”