Budget Issues: Better Fee Design Would Improve Federal Protective Service's and Federal Agencies' Planning and Budgeting for Security

GAO-11-492 Published: May 20, 2011. Publicly Released: May 20, 2011.
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The Federal Protective Service (FPS) is a fee-funded agency in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) responsible for providing physical security to over 9,000 federal facilities. In 2003 FPS transferred to DHS from the General Services Administration and for the first time was to fully recover its costs. GAO recently reported that stakeholders were concerned about FPS's ability to determine security costs, and the strategies used to address funding challenges had adverse effects on FPS. In this context, Congress directed GAO to evaluate FPS's resource levels. This report (1) analyzes FPS's fee design and proposed alternatives, and (2) examines how FPS's security fees challenge FPS and customer agency budget formulation and execution. GAO reviewed legislation and agency documentation and interviewed FPS and customer agency officials in headquarters and four FPS regions.

FPS increased its basic security fee four times in 6 years to try to cover costs (an increase of over 100 percent). FPS has not reviewed its fees to develop an informed, deliberate fee design. GAO has found that timely, substantive fee reviews are especially critical for fee-funded agencies to ensure that fee collections and operating costs remain aligned. FPS is legally required to charge fees that cover its total costs, but it is not required to align specific fees with specific activities. Nevertheless, in its pricing documents FPS describes an alignment between specific fees and specific activities that does not exist. FPS charges a basic security fee based on facility square footage. In addition, FPS charges facilities that have contractor-provided countermeasures, such as guards, the cost of the countermeasure plus an administrative fee that is a percentage of the countermeasure cost. Federal facilities vary in how much they cost to protect, but FPS does not know to what extent some facilities currently subsidize others. This contributes to expectation gaps with and unknown cross-subsidizations among payers. FPS officials said that basic security costs are meant to be "shared evenly" (i.e., based on square footage) among all payers while administrative fees for FPS-recommended or facility-requested countermeasures are meant to both (1) reflect the increased risk inherent to those facilities requiring or requesting additional countermeasures and (2) subsidize the aggregate cost of basic security services. Charging beneficiaries more or less than actual costs may help achieve policy goals, but FPS lacks data to determine whether this occurs as intended. Modifying the current fee structure or funding FPS through a combination of fees and direct appropriations may address equity and cross-subsidization issues and improve transparency to customers, but without detailed activity cost information and a full fee review the relative trade-offs in any particular proposal are unclear. Further, revising the fee structure alone will not address the variations in service levels reported by FPS's customer agencies or the overall level of services FPS is able to provide. The design and implementation of FPS's fees affect agencies' and FPS's ability to budget for and timely implement security measures in multiple ways. First, FPS lacks a method to propose security fee rates prior to submitting its budget request and cannot finalize its rates each year until it receives congressional instructions about its staffing levels in its appropriation act. As a result, agencies annually request security funding without accurate security cost estimates. Second, FPS makes security recommendations to customer agencies based on current threats, but agencies budget for security costs in advance and therefore must reallocate funds to pay for countermeasures for which they had not planned. Although there are no obvious solutions for these and other budget timing disconnects, alternative budget account structures like a reimbursable account or a revolving fund could help mitigate budgeting and timing challenges for FPS and customer agencies without compromising accountability for federal funds. GAO recommends that the Secretary of Homeland Security direct the Director of FPS to, among other things, conduct and make available regular fee reviews to improve its fee design, include capital investment costs in its rates, and evaluate its current and alternative funding and budget account structures to mitigate budget timing and other issues. DHS concurred with GAO's recommendations.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of the Federal Protective Service to conduct regular reviews of FPS's security fees and use this information to inform its fee setting.
Closed – Implemented
In April 2014, FPS finalized its Activity Based Cost Model Independent Verification and Validation Report that, along with FPS's fiscal year 2015 congressional budget justification, demonstrate FPS's ability to conduct regular, timely, and substantive fee reviews critical for fee funded organizations like FPS.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of the Federal Protective Service to include systemwide capital investments when estimating costs and include them when setting basic security fee rates.
Closed – Implemented
In July 2013, FPS officials said they had implemented the FPS acquisition review process to evaluate acquisition needs and provide investment oversight throughout the lifecycle to achieve budget goals and objectives. FPS officials said this process informs the activity based costing model used to identify all agency costs and inform fee setting.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of the Federal Protective Service to make information on the estimated costs of key activities as well as the basis for these cost estimates readily available to affected parties to improve the transparency and credibility--and hence the acceptance by stakeholders--of the process for setting and using the fees.
Closed – Implemented
FPS's fiscal year 2015 congressional budget justification (CJ) provides a transparent description of its funding model to FPS's stakeholders. The CJ describes the purpose of each fee, what each fee funds, and how the rate for each fee is established. The CJ also describes FPS's key activities and their cost basis. It also identifies the agencies from which most of FPS's revenues come and how much thses agencies pay in the respective fees.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of the Federal Protective Service, in implementing our previous recommendation to evaluate the current fee structure and determine a method for incorporating facility risk, to assess and report to Congress on: (1) the current and alternative fee structures, to include the options and trade-offs discussed in this report, and if appropriate, and (2) options to fund FPS through a combination of fees and direct appropriations, to include the options and trade-offs discussed in this report;
Closed – Implemented
In January 2015, the Federal Protective Service (FPS) completed its assessment of fee schedule alternatives. Among other things, FPS analyzed alternatives for ensuring cost alignment, transparency, and stable fee revenue. FPS used its activity based costing model and facility security profile (which represents facility risk) to inform its analysis. Upon completion of this analysis, FPS determined the current fee structure, with a fee increase, was the best option. FPS stated it will review its fees biannually.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of the Federal Protective Service to evaluate and report to Congress on options to mitigate challenges agencies face in budgeting for FPS security costs, such as: (1) an alternative account structure for FPS to increase flexibility, while retaining or improving accountability and transparency or (2) an approved process for estimating fee rates.
Closed – Implemented
In June 2016, FPS officials said the agency had identified several strategies to address the challenges agencies face in budgeting for FPS security costs. Specifically, FPS developed best practices for planning and managing physical security resources to assist agencies in making physical security management decisions. These efforts will improve the building specific countermeasure decision-making of their customer agencies. FPS officials said they worked with the General Services Administration to ensure that property leases include details of the security measures associated with the facility according to security standards so agencies can better predict security costs. And finally, FPS officials said they work with agencies to amortize the costs of countermeasures valued at over $50,000. These actions serve to provide security cost information agencies need for budgeting earlier than they had been.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of the Federal Protective Service to work with customer agencies to collect and maintain an accurate list of points of contact of customer agency officials responsible for budget and billing activities as well as facility designated points of contact as we previously recommended.
Closed – Implemented
In July 2013 FPS provided an agency customer billing contact list with the individuals and their contact information for FPS's customer agencies. FPS also updated the information available on their Rent on the Web invoices to show FPS billing contact information to its customer agencies.

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