Federal Land Management Agencies: Additional Actions Needed to Address Facility Security Assessment Requirements

GAO-20-171T Published: Oct 22, 2019. Publicly Released: Oct 22, 2019.
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Fast Facts

Federal land management agencies have law enforcement divisions to help protect employees and facilities on nearly 700 million acres of land. Security incidents on federal land include the 2016 armed occupation of a wildlife refuge by individuals motivated by anti-government beliefs.

Federal employees have been subject to a range of threats and assaults. But we testified that agencies have not completed all of the required facility security assessments. Officials said they do not have the resources or expertise to do so.

We previously recommended that agencies develop a plan to address these factors and complete their assessments.

Security gate installed at the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge following an armed occupation in January 2016

Security gate

Security gate

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What GAO Found

Data from the four federal land management agencies—the Forest Service within the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife (FWS), and National Park Service (Park Service) within the Department of the Interior—showed a range of threats and assaults against agency employees in fiscal years 2013 through 2017. For example, incidents ranged from telephone threats to attempted murder against federal land management employees. However, the number of actual threats and assaults is unclear and may be higher than what is captured in available data for various reasons. For example, employees may not always report threats because they consider them a part of the job. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) data for fiscal years 2013 through 2017 also showed that the FBI initiated under 100 domestic terrorism investigations into potential threats against federal land management agencies. The majority of these FBI investigations involved BLM, and the majority involved individuals motivated by anti-government ideologies.

The four federal land management agencies have not completed all of the facility security assessments on their occupied federal facilities as required by the Interagency Security Committee (ISC). Officials at the four agencies said that either they do not have the resources, expertise, or training to conduct assessments agency-wide. FWS has a plan to complete its assessments, but BLM, the Forest Service, and the Park Service do not. Such a plan could help these agencies address the factors that have affected their ability to complete assessments. The ISC also requires that agencies conduct assessments using a methodology that meets, among other things, two key requirements: (1) consider all of the undesirable events (e.g., arson and vandalism) identified as possible risks to facilities, and (2) assess the threat, vulnerability, and consequence for each of these events. The Forest Service's methodology meets these two requirements and the Park Service's methodology partially meets the requirements, but BLM and FWS have not yet established methodologies for conducting facility security assessments. Without developing a plan for conducting all of the remaining facility security assessments and using a methodology that complies with ISC requirements, agencies may not identify the risks their facilities face or identify the countermeasures—such as security cameras or security gates—they could implement to mitigate those risks.

Why GAO Did This Study

A 2014 government report predicted that the rate of violent domestic extremist incidents would increase. In recent years, some high-profile incidents have occurred on federal lands, such as the armed occupation of a FWS wildlife refuge in 2016. Federal land management agencies manage nearly 700 million acres of federal lands and have law enforcement divisions that protect their employees and secure their facilities.

This testimony summarizes GAO's September 2019 report on how land management agencies protect their employees and secure their facilities (GAO-19-643). In that report, GAO examined, among other things, for the four federal land management agencies, (1) what is known about the number of threats and assaults against their employees and (2) the extent to which agencies met federal facility security assessment requirements. For the report, GAO analyzed available government data on threats and assaults; examined agencies' policies, procedures, and documentation on facility security assessments; compared the agencies' methodologies against ISC requirements; and interviewed land management agency, ISC, and FBI officials.

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In its September 2019 report, GAO made six recommendations: that BLM, the Forest Service, and the Park Service develop a plan for completing facility security assessments; and that BLM, FWS, and the Park Service ensure their facility security assessment methodologies comply with ISC requirements. The agencies generally concurred with the recommendations.

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