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DC’s Security Could be at Risk

Just one week ago this day of our current issue’s publication, February 7th, a startling Washington Post headline, “Guards at D.C. government buildings let guns past checkpoints, slept on the job,” couldn’t have failed to alarm readers as it did us. But, what with all the tsunami of Trump outrages drowning everyone, local news – even such as this – may well have not even been a blip on one’s brain radar. So, with that in mind, here is what the Post’s opening paragraph, in part, informed us –- in italics so as to drive home its scariness:

“The company responsible for protecting District government property is being accused in a whistleblower lawsuit of failing to detect guns and bombs during tests, employing guards with expired licenses.   . .”

According to the Post, this whistleblower was a “high-ranking city official [who] raise[d] a host of concerns about the security of 40 million square feet of city government space and [that] top government leaders ignored repeated warnings about the contractor, Security Assurance Management.”

Further, from what was reported, this whistleblower’s warnings were not only ignored, but –- in true Trumpist fashion – “he was fired in November from his job as associate director of security for the D.C. Department of General Services after raising concerns about the $35 million annual contracts and saying that he would share those concerns at a D.C. Council hearing.”

The District’s Protective Services Division is the agency responsible for the protection of all its buildings, including in Northwest the District Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, 441 4th Street, the and Reeves Center at 14th and U Streets. To provide this protective guard service the agency utilizes 100 of its own officers and another 600 supplied by contractors.

In a statement provided to — and reported by —  the Post, the District’s Department of General Services (DGS), the parent agency of the Protective Services Division, “said that it was satisfied with the performance of Security Assurance Management and that the contractor took steps to address problems, including training its personnel in the use of hand wands to detect metal objects and increasing its monitoring of guards.”

This bureaucratic pablum is hardly reassuring. From what we have discerned, it was – probably still is –- not a matter of beefing up training. Rather it is the District’s penchant for recruiting the cheapest and usually the most unqualified contractors to perform function which should be done directly by the departments and agencies. As has been demonstrated time and again, utilizing third parties does not actually save money, given how contractors seem so adept at charging far more for services than their contracts actually stipulate and the failure too often of agencies to thoroughly audit.

But not all of the blame can be directed at the contractors. Much is due to the supervising agencies failing to aggressively monitor those contractors to ensure they are doing their jobs properly and in accordance with not only the specifics of their contracts but also consistent with the accepted practices and standards of their own trades.

For example, what about that matter of “spending months guarding an empty building even after the agency relocated”? How is it possible that DGS was apparently unaware that one of its buildings was vacant yet continued to be staffed with a guard whose sole function was to protect the non-existent occupants from danger should some weirdo enter & start firing a gun?

Or, what about this?: The inexcusable reported situation matter that there were employees who either had no or expired required licenses for the very jobs they were placed in. It is not enough that the statement provided by DGS tells us that the contractor “took steps to address problems.” There is no mention about the failure to ensure proper licensing – that is much more than simply a matter of “problems.” Why was mentioning training “in the use of hand wands” of such importance to be singled out and not the critical matter of licensing failures?

Bad as what we have fulminated about above, it has the potential of being eclipsed by the Trump budget that, as reported by the Post on February 10th, falls far short of providing what the District needs to adequately carry out is myriad security functions and obligations. We hope our local leaders as well as our friends in Congress will work to restore a level of funding that will ensure the safety not just of our neighborhoods but the entire city. But it may require even more effort, including all of us who have friends and relatives throughout the country mobilizing them to press the issue with their members of Congress –- especially in the Senate where DC has less support; for that, we need to stress the safety of the national capital itself.