The Government Accountability Office told a congressional panel Wednesday that its investigators were able to carry bomb-making materials through 10 security checkpoints monitored by the Federal Protection Service, which guards nearly 9,000 facilities throughout the country.
According to preliminary findings of a GAO study, the investigators assembled the bomb components -- which were in concentrations low enough that they wouldn't explode -- in restrooms, put the devices in briefcases and walked freely around the buildings.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, called the hearing after learning of the GAO's initial findings. He called the security lapses "the broadest indictment of an agency of the federal government that I've heard."
The FPS has 1,236 employees and more than 13,000 contracted security guards. The 67 private companies that employ those guards are responsible for their supervision, training and equipment.
Investigators placed their briefcases on conveyor belts, but the guards and X-ray machines failed to detect anything suspicious, the GAO said. At three of the 10 security checkpoints tested, guards were not looking at the X-ray screens as the bomb-making materials passed through.
The tests were carried out in four cities in major metropolitan areas. Eight of the 10 buildings were government-owned. They included the district offices of a U.S. senator and a U.S. representative, as well as agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, of which the FPS is a part, and the State and Justice departments. The tests were conducted in April and May, and only those 10 sites were tested.
The GAO would not identify the buildings or their locations publicly but said they were randomly selected "Level 4" facilities, which house more than 450 federal employees, have a high volume of public contact and could be considered a "likely target." Level 4 is second only to Level 5, which includes the White House and the CIA headquarters.
The GAO's full report is not expected until September. Among the initial findings:
* In one region, the FPS has not provided the required eight hours of X-ray or magnetometer training to its 1,500 guards since 2004.
* In another region, 62% of contract guards had expired certifications in at least one of the following areas: weapons, CPR, first aid and baton use.
* At one high-security facility, an armed guard was found asleep at his post after taking the painkiller Percocet.
* In one major city, an improperly trained guard sent an infant in a carrier through an X-ray machine.
* A guard who was supposed to be standing watch was caught using government computers to further his for-profit adult website.
* A guard failed to recognize or did not properly X-ray a box containing handguns at the loading dock of a facility.
Gary Schenkel, the FPS director, accepted responsibility for the findings but noted challenges his agency has experienced since he arrived in 2007, including budget constraints. In response to the GAO findings, he said the FPS needed to be "much more involved" in standardizing the agency and its training procedures in all 50 states.