- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009

A congressional watchdog agency easily sneaked bomb parts into 10 federal buildings and assembled them in bathrooms, prompting senators to demand immediate fixes to the Federal Protective Service.

The Government Accountability Office in a report released Wednesday said the investigators “walked freely around several of floors of these [high-level] facilities with the device in a briefcase.”

News of the security breaches came as U.S. authorities told the Associated Press that North Korea was being eyed as the origin of a dayslong cyberattack on dozens of government and private sites, including the White House and the New York Stock Exchange, that occurred over the July Fourth holiday.

The targets of the attack, which has not been linked to the Pyongyang government, appeared to have blunted its impact.

On Capitol Hill, FPS Director Gary W. Schenkel testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs saying that his efforts to better train contract security guards since taking charge of the agency two years ago is less than 25 percent complete and more improvements will take at least a year.

“We cannot wait for a solution,” said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and committee member. “We need solutions right now.”

Among the major findings was the FPS cannot ensure that its roughly 13,000 contract guards have adequate training and certifications to work at a federal facility. In addition, the agency lacks adequate follow-up and oversight on training, the report stated.

For example, prospective guards must complete roughly 128 hours of training including eight hours of X-ray and magnetometer training. However, in one region, 1,500 guards are assigned posts in federal buildings despite having not received the X-ray and magnetometer training since 2004.

In one case, a guard accidentally sent an infant in a carrier through an X-ray machine.

The report also states that a guard was found sleeping at his post at night after taking the prescription painkiller Percocet and that another discharged his gun in a restroom while practicing with it.

Mr. Schenkel said budget constraints have contributed to the agency’s problems “but clearly there is a lack of oversight on our part.”

He said changes have been made since he was briefed on the report several weeks ago, but he compared making improvements to needing about 36 miles of ocean to turn around an aircraft carrier. Mr. Schenkel also said an automated system in place next year will monitor guards at posts so supervisors will have less paperwork and more time to provide training.

“This is an unacceptable situation,” said committee Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent. “We were not going to hold a hearing, but [the findings] are so jarring and unsettling.”

Mr. Lieberman told Mr. Schenkel that the report due in two weeks must include “immediate” corrective steps.

FPS protects roughly 9,000 federal facilities with a $1 billion budget, 1,200 full-time employees and the contract guards.

Mr. Lieberman and Miss Collins said the agency would get additional resources if that was indeed the problem.

Among the 10 buildings that agents penetrated were two congressional offices and such agencies as the departments of Justice, State and Homeland Security.

The agents brought in the bombs in two parts - a detonator and low-level liquid explosives, said Mark L. Goldstein, GAO’s director of physical infrastructure issues.

He said investigators gained access to the building by showing a state driver’s license, walking through the magnetometer machines without incident and having their briefcases with the bomb material run through an X-ray machine without incident.

“At security checkpoints at three of the 10 facilities, our investigators noticed that the guard was not looking at the X-ray screen as some of the [bomb] components passed through the machine,” Mr. Goldstein stated. “At some of the facilities, the restrooms were locked. Our investigators gained access by asking employees to let them in.”

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