Contract guards who protect federal buildings have received uneven and inconsistent training on responding to shootings like the one last month at the Washington Navy Yard, according to a government watchdog report released Wednesday.
The Federal Protective Service, which safeguards the country's federal buildings, lacks an effective system for making sure that its contract guards have received proper training and certification before being assigned to a post, the Government Accountability Office report says. Though the agency requires its guards to be trained to respond when a gunman opens fire, officials from five companies said their guards had not gone through such training, the report states.
The report was summarized at a House subcommittee hearing on federal building security in the aftermath of the Sept. 16 fatal shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. A former Navy reservist, Aaron Alexis, killed 12 people inside the building where he worked before being shot and killed by police.
L. Eric Patterson, the director of the Federal Protective Service, testified that the agency has developed an active-shooter awareness program that has trained more than 3,300 people. But the GAO report says such training is uneven at best; of the 16 contract guard companies interviewed, only half said their guards had received active-shooter training during their Federal Protective Service orientation session. The rest said their guards either hadn't gotten the training or that the topic was covered at some time other than the orientation.
It says the agency, without ensuring that all of its guards have received the training, “has limited assurance that its guards are prepared for this threat.” It calls on the Federal Protective Service to immediately identify guards who haven't been trained and provide them with training.
Because guards at facilities are not federal law enforcement officers and are constrained by state law on what actions they may take, they are not expected to directly pursue a shooter unless the building is in a remote area and no one else is able to come quickly, Patterson said.
“However, if we come across a situation where the (private security officer) is the only individual in that facility and has no reasonable expectation that law enforcement can respond in a reasonably quick manner, then that individual will more than likely take action to limit the damage of an active shooter,” Patterson said.
Rep. Jeff Duncan, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee's oversight and management efficiency subcommittee, said he was concerned a “bureaucratic” response requiring multiple levels of communication would put people at risk during a mass shooting.
“Are lives not threatened even further? Is there a delay, I guess is what I'm asking?” the South Carolina Republican asked.
Patterson said security officers' first responsibility is to protect the people in the area.
“His responsibility is to ensure that he can keep people from coming into the building or getting people out of the building. So he's got a job to do right there,” he added. “In this case, we're hoping, we believe, we're going to have a quick response by either federal law enforcement, our folks, or by the state and local (police) if they're in the area.”