Report: Holes Found In Federal Security Federal investigators easily smuggled bomb-making materials past guards at federal buildings, a new report from the Government Accountability Office says. Mark Goldstein, the GAO's director for physical infrastructure issues, testified before a Senate panel Wednesday on the report's findings. He offers his insight.

Report: Holes Found In Federal Security

Report: Holes Found In Federal Security

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Federal investigators easily smuggled bomb-making materials past guards at federal buildings, a new report from the Government Accountability Office says. Mark Goldstein, the GAO's director for physical infrastructure issues, testified before a Senate panel Wednesday on the report's findings. He offers his insight.


The job of the Federal Protective Service is to protect federal office buildings and the people who work in them and visit them. And according to the Government Accountability Office, the GAO, it doesn't do that job very well.

GAO investigators have uncovered all sorts of lapses in federal buildings. In fact, they actually got weapons and the makings of a bomb inside federal buildings, past the protective service guards who run the magnetometers and x-ray machines at the entrances.

Mark Goldstein, the director of Physical Infrastructure Issues at the GAO testified about this in Congress this morning, and he's come to our studios. Welcome to the program.

Mr. MARK GOLDSTEIN (Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues, GAO): Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Let's start with what was literally your most explosive finding. It's not impossible to get a bomb inside a federal office building. How's that?

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: In fact, it's actually relatively easy. We were able to visit 10 federal buildings, all highly secured buildings at a level of security just below that of the White House. And we were able to bring through the checkpoints materials to make bombs. We brought in real materials. They were not at a concentration level that would have set the bomb off, so there was safety involved. But we brought the materials in, were not asked questions, were able to get the materials pass the check points. We assembled bombs in the bathrooms - takes only a couple of minutes to assemble - and put it in the briefcase and walked in and out of offices of Homeland Security & Justice and State and several legislators.

SIEGEL: Several legislators.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Yes. And the field offices that we went to - we went to a field office of a U.S. senator and a U.S. representative.

SIEGEL: Ten buildings in four cities. Were there any buildings in which your people were stopped?

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: No. We tried 10 buildings and gained access and assembled the bombs in all ten buildings.

SIEGEL: You've also reported about a shipment of automatic weapons that got through security at a loading dock.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: That's correct. We're not exactly sure how that happened, but it appears that the box was either not x-rayed or if it was x-rayed, was x-rayed improperly.

SIEGEL: I want you to explain who works for whom in this story, the supervisors of the Federal Protective Service are federal employees.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: That's correct.

SIEGEL: But the security guards whom they supervise work for contractors.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Yes. The Federal Protective Service has about 930 law enforcement officials, who oversee the 13,000 contract security guards at 9,000 federal facilities.

SIEGEL: But for example, when you report that - well you have a picture actually in the report of a security guard asleep at his desk with a bottle of Percocet…

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, a bottle of Percocet.

SIEGEL:…in front of him. I mean if that gentleman were to be fired on the basis of what he did, who fires him? A federal employee or an officer of the contracting firm (unintelligible)?

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: The Federal Protective Service would tell the contractor what had happened if they saw it. And they would tell the contractor to fire him. They could fire him themselves, I think, if they wish to. But clearly the contractor tends to do the firing since they're the ones who hired the guards.

SIEGEL: Part of what you report on here is that the training that is required of the guards, which should be done by the contractors, in fact is not often done.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: One of our major findings is that the training and the certifications that are required of a guard before they even stand post at a federal building, the Federal Protective Service has no assurance that those things are being done. And because when we checked files, we checked 663 files randomly, we found that 62 percent of those guards had at least one certification for firearms training or for first aid or CPR or for domestic violence and that was missing.

SIEGEL: Well today, are the people who are manning the guard station at the entrance to a federal office building in Washington, D.C., can they actually protect against a weapon getting inside the building and being used against someone inside?

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: I think it's unclear. I think we would have to say we're not sure.

SIEGEL: I would expect to receive at least one email from someone saying that you and your report - and I, by talking to you about it - have encouraged to embolden somebody to try to put a bomb inside a federal office building.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: I think what we've tried to do is to raise awareness that these kinds of things can happen and to ensure that greater visibility of them occurs, so that steps can be taken to prevent this.

SIEGEL: Well, Mark Goldstein, thank you very much for talking with us about it.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Mark Goldstein of the Government Accountability Office.

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Major Security Lapses Reported At Federal Buildings

Investigators smuggled bomb parts through checkpoints at 10 federal buildings as part of a test that showed gaping holes in security caused by inattentive and poorly trained guards, according to a Government Accountability Office report that accompanied Senate testimony Wednesday.

The GAO report, citing "substantial security vulnerabilities in training for Federal Protective Service officers, said components for an improvised explosive device passed through security checkpoints at facilities including the offices of "a U.S. senator and U.S. representative, as well as agencies such as the Departments of Homeland Security, State and Justice."

"Once GAO investigators passed control access points, they assembled the explosive device and walked freely around several ... floors of these Level IV facilities with the device in a briefcase," the report said. Level IV facilities are those that employ more than 450 federal workers and have high exposure to the public. The IEDs — which contained safe levels of explosives — were assembled in restrooms at four separate federal buildings, according to Mark Goldstein, the GAO's director for physical infrastructure. They were made up of a liquid explosive and a low-yield detonator, he said.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), who is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said Wednesday during a hearing on the subject that the lapses were "the broadest indictment of a federal agency I have ever heard."

"This is really serious stuff," he added.

In one case, the report said, a guard on night duty was found asleep at his post after taking the prescription painkiller Percocet. In another instance, "a guard failed to recognize or did not properly X-ray a box containing handguns at the loading dock at a facility," the report said.

In yet another incident at a Level IV facility, "an infant in a carrier was sent through an X-ray machine due to a guard's negligence," the report said.

Security at about 9,000 federal buildings across the country is provided by the FPS.

The report was released to coincide with a Wednesday hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the matter.

"The findings of covert security tests conducted by GAO investigators are stunning and completely unacceptable. In post-9/11 America, I cannot fathom how security breaches of this magnitude were allowed to occur," said Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the committee. "These security lapses and others show a disturbing pattern by the Federal Protective Service of poor training, lapsed documentation, lax management, inconsistent enforcement of security standards and little rigor."

The report found that while prospective guards were supposed to receive 128 hours of training, including eight hours for X-rays and magnetometers — devices used to detect metal objects — in at least one region, 1,500 guards working in federal buildings had received no such training since 2004.

Gary Schenkel, director of the Federal Protective Service, told the Senate committee that the report "caused us all grave concern" and that it was "purely a lack of oversight on our part."

Schenkel said that after he learned of the GAO findings, he instructed regional directors to increase their inspections and report what actions they would take to address and correct problems with contract guards.

Earlier government investigations have raised similar concerns about the quality of security provided to federal buildings. FPS currently has a budget of about $1 billion, 1,200 full-time employees and about 13,000 contract security guards.

From NPR and wire service reports