Facility Security:

Federal Protective Service's and Selected Federal Tenants' Sharing of and Response to Incident Information

GAO-15-406R: Published: Apr 27, 2015. Publicly Released: Apr 27, 2015.

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Mark L. Goldstein
(202) 512-2834


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What GAO Found

The Federal Protective Service (FPS) and selected federal tenants that GAO interviewed identify information related to actual or potential security incidents (incident information) through formal and informal sources and may take different steps to share incident information depending on the incident and response needed. FPS and federal tenant officials said that they can identify incident information by, for example, researching formal sources of threat information, such as the Homeland Security Information Network, which is a federal portal of sensitive but unclassified information. These officials also said that they can identify incident information from informal sources, such as professional relationships with, for example, former security colleagues. FPS and federal tenants may take different steps to share incident information depending on whether an incident has occurred and the urgency of response needed. For example, during an incident at an FPS-protected federal facility, federal tenants are instructed to share the incident information with FPS MegaCenters, which are regional communications centers that are responsible for dispatching FPS law enforcement officials or Protective Security Officers (PSO), or both to federal facilities during incidents.

The actions that FPS and selected federal tenants take to respond to incident information varies depending on factors such as FPS or agency guidelines, the characteristics of the incident and facility at issue, and professional judgment. For example, if an individual makes a threat against a federal employee or facility, FPS officials follow formal guidelines. These FPS-established guidelines require FPS officials to, among other things, evaluate the threat (e.g., review reports about the threat and, if appropriate, interview the individual who made the threat) and determine whether further action is needed, such as issuing a cease-and-desist order. Regarding demonstrations at or near federal facilities, FPS officials GAO interviewed said they evaluate the characteristics of the planned demonstration (e.g., the date and potential size of the demonstration), and on the day of the demonstration, FPS may increase its presence at the facility accordingly, sometimes with the support of other law enforcement organizations.

FPS, GSA, and federal tenant officials GAO interviewed cited various challenges that generally fall into one of the following categories: (1) staffing, (2) coordination and preparedness, and (3) technology and access to information. FPS regional officials identified various challenges with staffing, such as hiring and retaining FPS officials and the assignments of these officials in geographically dispersed areas. According to FPS regional officials, some of these staffing challenges could affect FPS’s ability to share and respond to incident information. FPS and GSA officials said that they experience some coordination challenges. For example, GSA officials cited difficulty coordinating response actions in facilities with multiple tenants. Finally, FPS officials and a federal tenant official cited technology and access to information challenges, such as a lack of radio interoperability with local law enforcement, which can complicate communication during an incident. FPS officials described some actions they are taking to address some of the challenges. For example, FPS officials said that they reassign staff to new locations in order to enhance regional coverage and coordinate with local law enforcement so that these law enforcement officials can respond in geographically dispersed areas. Further, FPS headquarters officials said that they are integrating radio interoperability considerations into their planning processes to help ensure that their radios are interoperable during incidents they know about ahead of time (e.g., demonstrations).

Why GAO Did This Study

The April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City and more recent events, such as the February 2012 shooting at the Anderson Federal Building in Long Beach, California, and the September 2013 Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C., demonstrate the continued vulnerability of federal facilities to security incidents. The Department of Homeland Security’s FPS is responsible for protecting almost 9,000 federal facilities held or leased by the General Services Administration (GSA). FPS protects these facilities by, among other things, sharing and responding to incident information. Federal tenants that occupy GSA-held or leased space also have a role in facility protection.

GAO was asked to examine the roles FPS and federal tenants play in sharing and responding to incident information. This report examines (1) how FPS and selected federal tenants identify and share information they receive on security incidents; (2) the actions, if any, that FPS and selected federal tenants take to respond to incident information, and the factors that guide their responses; and (3) the challenges, if any, that FPS and selected federal tenants face in sharing and responding to incident information. GAO reviewed relevant regulations and documents, and interviewed FPS officials and officials with federal agencies that are tenants in buildings at which FPS is responsible for providing security.

For more information, contact Mark Goldstein at (202) 512-2834 or goldsteinm@gao.gov.

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