- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2007

President Bush’s new budget proposes cuts to the Federal Protective Service, police that guard U.S. government buildings, a move labor unions say will be “the last nail in the coffin” of the agency that is being replaced by private contractors.

Administration officials say changes to the agency in the Department of Homeland Security improve efficiency without sacrificing security, and that private security firms already guard the vast majority of federal buildings.

A memo to staff from the service’s acting Director Paul Durette Monday said it would be “realigned” as a “standards-setting and compliance-centered operation” with 950 employees, from the current 1,250 or so.

The changes mean the service “work force will be primarily composed of inspectors,” with “patrol functions … limited only to the highest risk major metropolitan areas, or in locations where special security arrangements require” them.

The service will maintain its inspectors, and “a core group of criminal investigators dedicated to intelligence and investigative activities related to federal facilities,” but “the remaining uniformed cadre of police officers [in the agency] will be absorbed into other law enforcement functions” within homeland security, or encouraged to take early retirement, states the memo.

The move will complete the service’s transformation from a police force that actually guards U.S. government buildings across the country, including federal courthouses, to one that largely sets and enforces standards on private firms hired by other agencies to provide security at 880 or so facilities.

“This will be the last nail in the coffin,” said David Wright, president of the service’s union, American Federation of Government Employees Local 918. “It will break morale, it will break the service.”

Mr. Wright said Mr. Durette’s proposal was “a rehash of failed initiatives they have tried before.”

“The administration is proposing to walk away from its basic responsibility” to protect federal buildings across the country, said American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage in a statement vowing to oppose the cuts.

A Homeland Security official said the department was reviewing the service’s role “looking at areas where its responsibilities might duplicate those of other agencies.”

The result would be “a higher standard of service for our customers,” the federal agencies who own and operate the buildings protect ed by the service.

Mr. Wright said the plan was a response to a huge budget deficit the agency had — up to $65 million — blaming the departmental leadership at Homeland Security for their “reluctance … to go back to Congress to help solve this problem.”

The service’s management “is not being forthcoming about where the deficit comes from,” Mr. Wright said, adding that lawmakers he had spoken to this week were demanding a government audit of the service’s finances.

The Federal Protective Service is managed as part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, a part of the Department of Homeland Security.

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