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Report: Holes Found In Federal Security

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The job of the Federal Protective Service is to protect federal office buildings and the people who work in them and visit them. And according to the Government Accountability Office, the GAO, it doesn't do that job very well.

GAO investigators have uncovered all sorts of lapses in federal buildings. In fact, they actually got weapons and the makings of a bomb inside federal buildings, past the protective service guards who run the magnetometers and x-ray machines at the entrances.

Mark Goldstein, the director of Physical Infrastructure Issues at the GAO testified about this in Congress this morning, and he's come to our studios. Welcome to the program.

Mr. MARK GOLDSTEIN (Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues, GAO): Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Let's start with what was literally your most explosive finding. It's not impossible to get a bomb inside a federal office building. How's that?

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: In fact, it's actually relatively easy. We were able to visit 10 federal buildings, all highly secured buildings at a level of security just below that of the White House. And we were able to bring through the checkpoints materials to make bombs. We brought in real materials. They were not at a concentration level that would have set the bomb off, so there was safety involved. But we brought the materials in, were not asked questions, were able to get the materials pass the check points. We assembled bombs in the bathrooms - takes only a couple of minutes to assemble - and put it in the briefcase and walked in and out of offices of Homeland Security & Justice and State and several legislators.

SIEGEL: Several legislators.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Yes. And the field offices that we went to - we went to a field office of a U.S. senator and a U.S. representative.

SIEGEL: Ten buildings in four cities. Were there any buildings in which your people were stopped?

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: No. We tried 10 buildings and gained access and assembled the bombs in all ten buildings.

SIEGEL: You've also reported about a shipment of automatic weapons that got through security at a loading dock.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: That's correct. We're not exactly sure how that happened, but it appears that the box was either not x-rayed or if it was x-rayed, was x-rayed improperly.

SIEGEL: I want you to explain who works for whom in this story, the supervisors of the Federal Protective Service are federal employees.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: That's correct.

SIEGEL: But the security guards whom they supervise work for contractors.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Yes. The Federal Protective Service has about 930 law enforcement officials, who oversee the 13,000 contract security guards at 9,000 federal facilities.

SIEGEL: But for example, when you report that - well you have a picture actually in the report of a security guard asleep at his desk with a bottle of Percocet…

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, a bottle of Percocet.

SIEGEL:…in front of him. I mean if that gentleman were to be fired on the basis of what he did, who fires him? A federal employee or an officer of the contracting firm (unintelligible)?

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: The Federal Protective Service would tell the contractor what had happened if they saw it. And they would tell the contractor to fire him. They could fire him themselves, I think, if they wish to. But clearly the contractor tends to do the firing since they're the ones who hired the guards.

SIEGEL: Part of what you report on here is that the training that is required of the guards, which should be done by the contractors, in fact is not often done.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: One of our major findings is that the training and the certifications that are required of a guard before they even stand post at a federal building, the Federal Protective Service has no assurance that those things are being done. And because when we checked files, we checked 663 files randomly, we found that 62 percent of those guards had at least one certification for firearms training or for first aid or CPR or for domestic violence, and that was missing.

SIEGEL: Why does the federal government leave it to contractors to supply the people who protect federal office buildings, as opposed to just employing them as the security guards who guard our buildings?

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: I think it's a policy choice that's been made over the years. It is cheaper and the funds may not have been there. But the problem is the Federal Protective Service has not grown and parts of if have shrunk over the years. So it's become more difficult to manage a contract guard force that is much larger.

SIEGEL: I would expect to receive at least one email from someone saying that you in your report - and I, by talking to you about it - have encouraged to emboldened somebody to try to put a bomb inside a federal office building.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: I think what we've tried to do is to raise awareness that these kinds of things can happen and to ensure that greater visibility of them occurs, so that steps can be taken to prevent this.

SIEGEL: Well, Mark Goldstein, thank you very much for talking with us about it.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Mark Goldstein of the Government Accountability Office. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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