Friday, October 31, 2014

"No Specific Credible Threats" Means No Specific Credible Security Measures

The Department of Homeland Security announced this week that it has heightened security around federal buildings in response to last week's attack by a lone nut on the Canadian parliament in Ottawa, and other global events. Needless to say, this heightened security - whatever it may consist of - is "not based on any specific, credible information at this time indicating any active plot against government officials and law enforcement in the United States."

Doesn't pretty much every public warning or security advisory ever put out by DHS say that it is not based on any specific credible threat information? Yes, they do. In fact, let me Google that for you.

Threats aside, what does this "heightened security" mean for my fellow Feds in the many government office buildings in and around Washington DC? Realistically speaking, it means nothing. The government agency responsible for security of the federal government's 9,500 workplaces, the Federal Protective Service, is just as under-resourced this week as it has been for many years now, and it is simply not equal to the task of heightening security at all those places.

In particular, it lacks the personnel to provide more than a token presence at most government buildings. According to DHS's written testimony before a House subcommittee in May of this year, “FPS directly employs more than 1,000 law enforcement officers, inspectors, and special agents who are trained physical security experts and sworn Federal law enforcement officers. Approximately 13,000 FPS-contracted [Protective Security Officers] staff guard posts at FPS-protected Federal facilities.” That's 13,000 guards for 9,500 office buildings, minus the few belonging to agencies that provide their own building security. You do the math.

And that's putting the best spin on the situation. The head of the employees union that represents FPS put it more bluntly in an interview with Federal News Radio:
David Wright, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 918, told the panel buildings security reviews have also suffered because of understaffing at the agency. Wright, who works as an FPS inspector, said the organization is top-heavy and more employees need to be deployed to the field.

All told, more than 21 percent of staff is assigned to headquarters staff, "which robs federal buildings of necessary security," Wright testified.

Meanwhile, he said, employees in the field struggle to perform all their duties. Most inspectors are assigned to oversee an average of nearly two dozen buildings and are responsible for conducting security assessments, overseeing contractors and a host of other duties.

"How do inspectors accomplish all their tasks? They don't, because there are simply not enough of them," Wright said.

A bit too blunt, perhaps. However, the General Accountability Office agrees that FPS is a troubled agency.

This week's announcement by DHS is obviously more security theater than anything else. When DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson calls on Congress and the Administration to give FPS the funding it needs to truly heighten security around federal buildings, then I'll get interested.

Until then, keep calm and carry on, you Feds, and don't expect to see any more security presence than usual.


Anonymous said...

TSB: So you are suggesting they are full of it?? I agree with that! gwb

TSB said...

Not exactly, but what do you call it when DHS announces it has no specific credible threat information and yet it wants the public to be alarmed anyway? Preemptive fear-mongering? The boy who cried Lone Wolf? (Or, these days, the boy who cries he is picking up increasing levels of wolf chatter?) They're saying "I've got nothing, but be afraid anyway."

James said...

Of course you can always rely on me for the obvious:

Anonymous said...

TSB: 'Be Afraid' is clearly the theme of the ISIS and Ebola responses. I think it is telling that Obama and Clinton both did all they could to absent themselves from Libya, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine. It's as though someone else is calling the shots and they are forced to be spokespeople for them. Seems to me Putin is right that our goal is to destroy Arab states and risk war with Russia while cratering the world economy. Hard to make sense of it. gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB: Communicable virus pandemics have a long cyclic history of coinciding with major WWI and coming at 100 yr intervals. Ebola has a good chance of becoming pandemic all by itself in another 4 years or so. Especially if there is a major war in between now and then unless it is extinguished. I think US govt fears are well justified. One scenario would have it become transmissable by minimally or asymptomatic carriers. gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB: I voted for the Rep. candidate for Senator in WA. That is the equivalent to spitting in the ocean.. I haven't seen a commercial or yard sign for either of them. But I'm learning from my mistakes. Today I'm going to spend a dollar on a lottery ticket. gwb

TSB said...

Good luck with the lottery ticket. Your odds of a payoff are greater than mine when I vote for my candidates on Tuesday!