Federal Protective Service: Better Documented Cost Estimates Could Help Stakeholders Make Security Decisions
The Federal Protective Service provides security at more than 9,000 federal facilities. We talked to stakeholders and reviewed security assessment reports from 27 facilities where FPS provided services in FY 2019.
Stakeholders expressed satisfaction with many aspects of FPS's performance, including staff professionalism. However, many said FPS could provide better cost estimates for recommended security measures—and we found FPS's reports lacked certain information.
For example, one FPS estimate did not specify the height or material of a proposed fence. We recommended FPS provide more information about cost estimates in its reports.
What GAO Found
The Federal Protective Service (FPS) provides security and protection at more than 9,000 federal facilities. FPS performs a variety of security activities in conjunction with the General Services Administration (GSA), which functions as the landlord at most of these facilities, and with the federal agencies, which occupy these facilities as tenants. These stakeholders can provide important perspectives on FPS's performance of its key activities (see figure).
The Federal Protective Service's Three Key Security Activities
Stakeholders expressed satisfaction with many aspects of FPS's performance of key activities but also identified aspects where they thought FPS could make improvements. For example, stakeholders expressed satisfaction with the professionalism of FPS personnel and commended FPS's coordination in responding to law enforcement incidents. However, some stakeholders said they would like to see FPS oversee contract guards more often. In addition, many stakeholders said that FPS could improve the cost estimates in its security assessment reports.
GAO's review of FPS's Facility Security Assessment reports found that cost estimates for the recommended security measures lacked information that could help stakeholders make decisions to accept or reject FPS's recommendations. Specifically, recent reports for 27 selected buildings did not document (1) the assumptions FPS made to produce the cost estimates (e.g., the scope of work) and (2) the sources FPS used to create the estimate. In one report, for example, FPS recommended additional fencing and provided a cost estimate with an exact dollar amount. However, FPS did not document the assumptions it used to develop the estimate, such as the height and linear feet of fence or the fencing material.
According to GAO's Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide , cost estimates should provide information about the assumptions and sources used to develop an estimate so that decision-makers can understand the level of uncertainty around the estimate. By providing detailed information about the cost estimates in Facility Security Assessment reports, FPS could better inform stakeholders and potentially increase implementation of recommended security measures, designed to increase the safety of people and property at these facilities.
Why GAO Did This Study
Over one million employees and a range of visitors seeking services at federal facilities depend on FPS to ensure the safety of both people and property at these locations.
This report examines stakeholders' perspectives on FPS's performance of three key activities. GAO identified key activities from FPS data on work hours. GAO held discussion groups with stakeholders from 27 randomly selected facilities where FPS provided guard services and responded to incidents in fiscal year 2019 and analyzed stakeholder responses from 2017-2019 to GSA's and FPS's feedback instruments. These sources of stakeholder views are not representative but collectively provide insight into stakeholders' satisfaction with how FPS is performing key activities. GAO also reviewed agency documents; interviewed FPS officials about FPS's performance; and compared FPS's security assessment reports to criteria in GAO's Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide .
GAO recommends that FPS include in its Facility Security Assessment reports both the assumptions and sources used to develop the cost estimate for each security measure it recommends. DHS concurred with the recommendation, but stated that clarifying cost estimates is unlikely to lead to increased adoption of security measures. GAO believes the recommendation is warranted and that the proposed actions DHS outlines in its response to the recommendation, while helpful, are not fully in line with the recommendation.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Federal Protective Service||The Director of FPS should ensure that Facility Security Assessment reports document the assumptions and sources used to develop the cost estimate for each recommended security measure. (Recommendation 1)||
FPS conducts facility security assessments of federal buildings to identify and evaluate potential security risks so that it can recommend security measures and practices to help prevent or mitigate these risks. The Interagency Security Committee standards require FPS to provide a detailed description of work and cost estimates for each recommended security measure and practice. Federal tenant agencies are responsible for considering FPS's recommendations and making facility-specific security decisions. The tenant agencies can decide to accept and implement FPS's recommendations or reject the recommendations and accept the associated security risks. GAO held discussion groups with tenant agencies from 27 randomly selected facilities where FPS provided guard services. In 2021, GAO reported that many tenant agencies expressed concern with the cost estimates FPS provides in its security assessment reports. Given concerns expressed by tenant agencies about FPS's cost estimates, GAO reviewed the most recent security assessment reports for the 27 buildings it selected. GAO found that the reports documented some recommendation-specific cost information and some generic information about cost. However, FPS did not list the sources it used or any assumptions underlying the estimates it provided for specific recommendations. According to GAO's Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide, cost estimates should provide information about the assumptions and sources used to develop an estimate so that decision-makers can understand the level of uncertainty around the estimate. Tenant agencies rely on FPS to recommend security measures and practices as well as provide information on the potential cost of implementing those recommendations. Without sufficient details about how FPS crafted its cost estimate, tenant agencies may lack confidence in the financial obligations associated with implementation and thereby reject important security recommendations. Accordingly, GAO recommended that FPS ensure that Facility Security Assessment reports document the assumptions and sources used to develop the cost estimate for each recommended security measure. In 2022, FPS issued a directive establishing the FPS's policy for ensuring consistent nationwide execution of the Facility Security Assessment Process. In conjunction with this directive, FPS updated its Facility Security Assessment Manual to require that assessment reports include the assumptions underlying the cost estimates. For example, the manual explicitly notes that cost estimates shall clearly define the parameters (i.e., assumptions) used to create them. It also includes a statement about the various sources FPS inspectors may use to develop the estimates. In addition, FPS has a quality review process to help ensure that each assessment report is complete and aligns with FPS's policies, including the cost estimate requirements, prior to the report being finalized. Each report goes through a three level quality assurance review and if any deficiencies in the report are identified, it is sent back for correction and must go through that level of review again. GAO reviewed completed assessment reports and confirmed that they included information about the assumptions used to develop the cost estimate and the statement about the sources FPS uses to produce cost estimates. By having a quality assurance review process to help ensure that assessment reports contain additional information about the cost estimates and their sources, FPS is providing tenant agencies with better information when considering recommended security measures, which could potentially increase implementation of these measures.