Federal agencies are largely ignoring thousands of safety recommendations offered by the government’s Homeland Security Office, officials said Thursday, often because they refuse to provide the necessary funding.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protection Office, which is responsible for providing security to agencies located in nearly 10,000 buildings, offers its clients—federal agencies that pay fees for its services—assessments on how to improve their security measures. safety. Between fiscal years 2017 and 2021, however, agencies have implemented only 22 percent of the 25,000 recommendations submitted by the Defense Department. They closed 70 percent without addressing them, according to a Government Accountability Office review, while 7 percent remain open.
Officials from the Federal Protection Service and the GAO told the House Homeland Security Committee on Oversight, Management and Accountability that agencies typically cite an inability to fund the fixes to explain their failure to heed the advice. Lawmakers expressed particular concern about unaddressed security gaps in light of the recent spate of threats against employees at various agencies.
“As tensions have risen in response to the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago and the passage of the historic Deflation Act, we have also seen an increase in threats targeting federal employees and their office buildings,” said Rep. Lu. Correa, D-Calif., who chairs the subcommittee hosting Thursday’s hearing. “Although not typically considered high-security facilities, these government office buildings and the men and women who work and visit them every day now face new security risks.”
Chris Klein, principal deputy director of the Federal Protective Service, said his agency has taken steps to increase security at the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the National Archives and Records Administration.
“We have increased our security efforts at these facilities occupied by these agencies and remain ready to detect, prevent and respond to criminal activity at these locations,” Klein said.
Cline noted that FPS launched 201 investigations in 2022, stemming primarily from agency reports of officers receiving a specific threatening message, which resulted in 19 arrests. He said he expects more arrests in the coming months and explained that the agency has stepped up its proactive security efforts since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building. In a recent bulletin, the Federal Protective Service instructed federal law enforcement agencies to “remain on high alert.” He reminded agency leaders to ensure that federal facilities are “properly monitored and secured.”
The Office of Protection maintains a relatively small staff of just 1,300 federal employees, but employs an additional 15,000 guards. Klein said those officers are rotated based on needs identified by the agency’s own analysis and in coordination with federal and local law enforcement.
“We know, facility-wise, where the biggest risks are and where we need to put people,” Klein said.
The security agency is currently experiencing significant staff shortages, with 21% of its authorized positions vacant. Klein said the agency plans to fill all of those by the end of fiscal year 2023. He noted that the FBI is dealing with a tight job market and competition from other law enforcement agencies.
Lawmakers have questioned whether the Federal Protective Service needs more resources, suggesting it is not fulfilling its mission. They also asked whether their recommendations should be mandatory rather than at the discretion of the agency.
“The Capitol Police has thousands of officers for one complex,” said Congressman Richie Torres, DN.Y. “You have 1,000 employees for 9,500 buildings. There seems to be a disconnection.’
When Klein said officials at the agency’s headquarters often refuse to prioritize security improvements in their field offices, Correa responded that the Federal Protection Service needs to be stronger.
“This has been going on for several years, non-compliance,” Correa said. “This is unacceptable.”
House Democrats are already scrutinizing the Biden administration’s response to the rise in threats against the feds and told FPS they will push for more funding for the agency, rather than requiring it to rely solely on the “core security fee” that agencies pay . In recent weeks, several agencies have taken steps to alert officials to threats they’ve received or observed, including the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Archives and Records Administration. The Internal Revenue Service, which came under fire from Republican lawmakers and other conservative figures after President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act and its provision to boost IRS funding and hiring, has launched a comprehensive review of the agency’s security measures.