Homeland Security:

The Federal Protective Service Faces Several Challenges That Hamper Its Ability to Protect Federal Facilities

GAO-08-683: Published: Jun 11, 2008. Publicly Released: Jun 18, 2008.

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In 2003, the Federal Protective Service (FPS) transferred from the General Services Administration (GSA) to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). FPS provides physical security and law enforcement services to about 9,000 GSA facilities. To accomplish its mission of protecting GSA facilities, FPS currently has an annual budget of about $1 billion, 1,100 employees, and 15,000 contract guards located throughout the country. Recently, FPS has faced several challenges protecting GSA facilities and federal employees. This report provides information and analysis on (1) FPS's operational challenges and actions it has taken to address them, (2) funding challenges FPS faces and actions it has taken to address them, and (3) how FPS measures the effectiveness of its efforts to protect GSA facilities. To address these objectives, we conducted site visits at 7 of FPS's 11 regions and interviewed FPS, GSA, tenant agencies, and local law enforcement officials.

FPS faces several operational challenges that hamper its ability to accomplish its mission, and the actions it has taken may not fully resolve these challenges. FPS's staff decreased by about 20 percent between fiscal years 2004 and 2007. FPS has managed the decreases in its staffing resources in a manner that has diminished security at GSA facilities and increased the risk of crime or terrorist attacks at many GSA facilities. For example, with the exception of a few locations, FPS no longer provides proactive patrols at GSA facilities to detect and prevent criminal incidents and terrorism-related activities. FPS also continues to face problems with managing its contract guard program and ensuring that security countermeasures, such as security cameras and magnetometers, are operational. For example, according to FPS, it has investigated significant crimes at multiple high-risk facilities, but the security cameras installed in those buildings were not working properly, preventing FPS investigators from identifying the suspects. To address some of its operational challenges, FPS is moving to an inspector-based workforce, which seeks to eliminate the police officer position and rely primarily on FPS inspectors for both law enforcement and physical security activities. FPS believes that this change will ensure that its staff has the right mix of technical skills and training needed to accomplish its mission. FPS is also hiring an additional 150 inspectors and developing a new system for completing building security assessments. However, these actions may not fully resolve FPS's operational challenges because, for example, inspectors might not be able to fulfill both law enforcement and physical security roles simultaneously. FPS also faces funding challenges, and the actions it has taken to address them have had some adverse implications. To fund its operations, FPS charges each tenant agency fees for its security services. In fiscal years 2005 and 2006, FPS's projected expenses exceeded its collections and DHS had to transfer funds to make up the difference. FPS also instituted cost-saving measures such as restricting hiring and travel and limiting training and overtime. According to FPS, these measures have affected staff morale, safety and increased attrition. FPS has been authorized to increase the basic security fee four times since it transferred to DHS, currently charging tenant agencies 62 cents per square foot for basic security services. Because of these actions, FPS's collections in fiscal year 2007 were sufficient to cover costs, and FPS projects that collections will also cover costs in fiscal year 2008. However, FPS's primary means of funding its operations--the basic security fee--does not account for the risk faced by specific buildings, the level of service provided, or the cost of providing services, raising questions about equity. Several stakeholders also expressed concern about whether FPS has an accurate understanding of its costs to provide security at federal facilities. FPS has developed output measures, but lacks outcome measures to assess the effectiveness of its efforts to protect federal facilities. Its output measures include determining whether security countermeasures have been deployed and are fully operational. However, FPS has not developed outcome measures to evaluate its efforts to protect federal facilities that could provide FPS with broader information on program results. FPS also lacks a reliable data management system for accurately tracking performance measures.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve its ability to address its operational and funding challenges and to ensure that it has useful performance measures and reliable information to assess the effectiveness of efforts to protect GSA facilities, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FPS to develop and implement specific guidelines and standards for measuring its performance, including outcome measures to assess its performance and improve the accountability of FPS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We reported in 2008 that the Federal Protective Service (FPS) faces several challenges that hamper its ability to protect federal facilities. Specifically, we reported that FPS lacks outcome measures to assess the effectiveness of its efforts to protect federal facilities. We recommended that FPS ensure that it has useful performance measures to assess the effectiveness of efforts to protect federal facilities. In response to this recommendation, in 2011, FPS developed guidelines for measuring its performance and improving accountability that identifies performance measures and corresponding targets. For example, FPS measures the percent of countermeasures at federal facilities that are in compliance with standards and percent of tenant agencies satisfied with the level of security provided at federal facilities. FPS's efforts will allow it to track the agency's progress towards achieving its goals and provide FPS managers with better information on which to base decisions for improving their progress.

    Recommendation: To improve its ability to address its operational and funding challenges and to ensure that it has useful performance measures and reliable information to assess the effectiveness of efforts to protect GSA facilities, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FPS to evaluate whether FPS's current use of a fee-based system or an alternative funding mechanism is the most appropriate manner to fund the agency.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We reported in 2008 that the Federal Protective Service's (FPS) primary means of funding its operations (the basic security fee) does not account for the risk faced by specific federal facilities, the level of service provided, or the cost of providing services; and raises questions about equity. Thus, we recommended that FPS evaluate whether its current use of a fee-based system or an alternative funding mechanism is the most appropriate manner to fund the agency. In response to this recommendation, in March 2012, FPS awarded a contract to, among other things, evaluate its current user fee structure and to recommend any changes to the current fee structure that would better align user fees with FPS services. As a result, FPS will be in a better position to begin addressing its funding and operational challenges.

    Recommendation: To improve its ability to address its operational and funding challenges and to ensure that it has useful performance measures and reliable information to assess the effectiveness of efforts to protect GSA facilities, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FPS to improve FPS's use of the fee-based system by developing a method to accurately account for the cost of providing security services to tenant agencies and ensuring that its fee structure takes into consideration the varying levels of risk and service provided at GSA facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We reported in 2008 that several stakeholders raised questions about whether Federal Protective Service's (FPS) has an accurate understanding of the cost of providing security at federal facilities. Thus, we recommended that FPS improve its use of the fee-based system by developing a method to accurately account for the cost of providing security services to tenant agencies and ensure that its fee structure takes into consideration the varying levels of risk and service provided at federal facilities. In response to this recommendation, in March 2012, FPS awarded a contract to, among other things, to help it develop an activity base cost system. As a result, FPS will be in a better position to begin addressing its funding and operational challenges

    Recommendation: To improve its ability to address its operational and funding challenges and to ensure that it has useful performance measures and reliable information to assess the effectiveness of efforts to protect GSA facilities, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FPS to clarify roles and responsibilities of local law enforcement agencies in regard to responding to incidents at GSA facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We reported in 2008 that the Federal Protective Service (FPS) faces several challenges that hamper its ability to protect federal facilities. Specifically, we reported that FPS had increased its reliance on state and local law enforcement agencies for assistance with crime and other incidents at federal facilities without coordinating with them. However, we reported that FPS did not have memorandum of agreements with local law enforcement agencies and that without such agreements it was unclear if local law enforcement have authority to enforce federal laws and regulations or have the resources to assist FPS. Thus we recommended that FPS clarify roles and responsibilities of local law enforcement agencies in regard to responding to incidents at federal facilities. To improve its collaboration with local law enforcement, as of September 2011, FPS has entered into agreements with many local law enforcement agencies or developed guidance that addresses issues such as scope of local law enforcement authorities. These efforts will result in more local law enforcement agencies assisting FPS with responding to incidents at federal facilities. Action taken

    Recommendation: To improve its ability to address its operational and funding challenges and to ensure that it has useful performance measures and reliable information to assess the effectiveness of efforts to protect GSA facilities, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FPS to develop and implement a strategic approach to manage its staffing resources that, among other things, determines the optimum number of employees needed to accomplish its facility protection mission and allocate these resources based on risk management principles and the agency's goals and performance measures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We found that decreases in the Federal Protective Service's (FPS) staffing resources has hampered its ability to protect the over 1 million government employees as well as members of the public who work in and visit 9,000 federal facilities each year. FPS's staff decreased by 20 percent between fiscal years 2004 and 2007. We recommended that FPS develop and implement a strategic approach to manage its staffing resources including determining the optimum number of employees needed to accomplish its facility protection mission and allocate these resources based on risk management principles. In response, Congress included provisions in the fiscal years 2008 and 2009 Consolidated Appropriations Act requiring FPS to increase its staff to no less than 1,200 full time employees including 900 full time law enforcement personnel. As a result, in April 2009,FPS increased its staff to 1,239 full time employees which will help it to accomplish its facility protection mission.

    Recommendation: To improve its ability to address its operational and funding challenges and to ensure that it has useful performance measures and reliable information to assess the effectiveness of efforts to protect GSA facilities, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FPS to improve how FPS categorizes, collects, and analyzes data to help it better manage and understand the results of its efforts to protect GSA facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We reported in 2008 that the Federal Protective Service (FPS) faced challenges in ensuring that its data management system provided accurate and reliable indicators of crimes and other incidents at federal facilities. Thus, we recommended that FPS improve how it categorizes, collects, and analyzes data to help it better manage and understand the results of its efforts to protect federal facilities. In response, in 2011, FPS implemented an incident and offense data capture and analysis process that helped the agency improve crime and other incident related data. FPS's efforts will allow it to track the agency's progress in achieving its goals and provide FPS managers with better information on which to base decisions for improving their progress.

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