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After Navy Yard, Norton Pushes For Changes To Federal Protective Service

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The Federal Protective Service is responsible for about 9,000 government buildings that house federal agencies that do not provide their own protection.
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The Federal Protective Service is responsible for about 9,000 government buildings that house federal agencies that do not provide their own protection.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton says she'll introduce a bill to overhaul the Federal Protective Service, which secures buildings used by an estimated 1. 4 million federal employees and visitors every day.

The Federal Protective Service is responsible for about 9,000 government buildings that house federal agencies that do not provide their own protection.

It was not responsible for the Washington Navy Yard during last year's mass shooting. But in the wake of that tragedy, members of Congress are taking a closer look at security of all federal buildings, and FPS has become a target of that scrutiny.

She points to numerous reports from the Government Accountability Office documenting problems with FPS and calls it “a disaster waiting to happen.”

FPS relies on 13,000 guards provided by government contractors, and the GAO says there isn’t a reliable system to oversee those guards. Audits have found some guards have not received adequate training for active-shooter situations or how to use screening technology. And the reports have said FPS isn’t doing appropriate risk assessments for many of the buildings it secures.

Mark Goldstein, director of physical infrastructure issues at the GAO, says his group has issued 26 recommendations to FPS over the past several years.

“There’s a whole variety of recommendations that we’ve made,” he says. “Only a few as I say at this point have been fully carried out.”

Norton says that’s exactly why Congress needs to overhaul the Federal Protective Service. She says lawmakers need to not only address problems with training and oversight, but also clarify the roles contract guards are expected to play. They are not police officers, and they can’t actively pursue gunmen.

“I don’t think any employee going into the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Transportation thinks that the guard who may have a gun cannot even arrest a criminal who may be coming after them,” she says. “But that’s what we have today.”

General L. Eric Patterson, director of the Federal Protective Service, told a Senate committee last month that FPS has implemented several GAO recommendations. But Norton says she'd like to see a comprehensive proposal to address concerns in a systemic way. She hopes to find bipartisan support for an overhaul when Congress returns.

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