Federal Times’ editorial, “Federalize building security,” concludes that federalizing the security guards at federal buildings is necessary to achieve better security. However, the evidence on federalization does not support that conclusion.
It is true, that over the past two years, the Government Accountability Office has uncovered numerous problems at the Federal Protective Service that have led to serious lapses in federal building security. Of greatest concern has been GAO’s ability to pass undetected through security checkpoints with dangerous items, including bomb components. This has led to calls to federalize the FPS guard force. While FPS estimates that a federal guard will cost 30 percent more than a private guard, the key question is whether federal guards will provide better security. The answer is no.
The greatest example of federalizing personnel for security purposes was the conversion of private airport screeners to federal screeners after 9/11. Like FPS guards, a primary function of airport screeners is to detect dangerous materials. In 2007, several years after airport screening had been federalized, GAO conducted covert detection tests on airport screeners virtually identical to the tests later conducted on FPS security guards. The results were also identical — widespread failure to detect prohibited items.
When faced with the poor performance of federal airport screeners, federalization proponents claim federal screeners are still an improvement over pre-9/11 private screeners. That may be so, but what about compared with current private screeners? Under the Screening Partnership Program, currently about 20 airports, including major airports at San Francisco and Kansas City, use private screeners. These private screeners were also tested by GAO, and no difference was found in their performance compared with federal screeners. In addition, a 2007 Transportation Security Administration-commissioned study of private airport screeners found the performance of private screeners to be “equal to or better” than that of federal screeners.
At this point, federalization advocates fall back on the “fact” that because private security contractors seek to make profits, they will cut costs to increase profits, and such cost-cutting is reflected in guard performance. On the other hand, they argue, the federal government has no profit motive and is only motivated by security, thus federal guards will perform better.
This dubiously calls into question the quality of service provided by all government contractors and shows a lack of understanding of the competitive market system.
Cutting costs can increase profits, but a better way to increase profits is to provide excellent service to retain business and attract new customers. Furthermore, in the private sector, competition creates the need to perform well, employ best practices and constantly seek to improve. Such performance drivers are not evident in the federal sector.
In analyzing the problems of FPS guards, one must look at the root causes. Inadequate training on X-rays and magnetometers is cited as a major problem. Yet, if such training is poor, then it does not matter if the guard being trained is federal or private; the outcome will be the same.
What is needed to improve FPS security is better training, management, oversight and administration, including additional resources to hire more inspectors and contracting officer’s technical representatives. The relationship between FPS and contractors needs to be strengthened, and most importantly, the procurement process must be altered so that the quality of training, personnel, management and operations is properly considered in relation to cost. This will result in higher-cost contracts, but will also in better-paid, trained and motivated security officers.
By having adequate resources and making identifiable improvements to the contract guard program, some of which are already underway, FPS can provide better security in a more cost-efficient and effective manner than could be done with the federalization of the FPS guard force.
Articles, Reports and Bills Related to The Federalization of Contract Guards
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Tags: Federal Contract Guards of America, FCGOA, Federal Protective Service, FPS, Federalizing of Contract Guards, Federalize building security, private screeners
Homeland Security, House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection, Federal Protective Service Improvement and Accountability Act of 2010