DHS – busy securing America against porn surfing and wrecked Ferraris, not so busy securing themselves:
WASHINGTON – The agency entrusted with protecting the U.S. homeland is having difficulty safeguarding its own headquarters, say private security guards at the complex.
…For instance, when an envelope with suspicious powder was opened last fall at Homeland Security Department headquarters, guards said they watched in amazement as superiors carried it by the office of Secretary Michael Chertoff, took it outside and then shook it outside Chertoff’s window without evacuating people nearby.
…”I had never previously been given training … describing how to respond to a possible chemical attack,” Daniels told The Associated Press. “I wouldn’t feel safe nowhere on this compound as an officer.”
Keeping in mind the basic weakness of argument-by-anecdote, the article makes a very good case against privatizing security at airports and government buildings. It has always amazed me how people will completely freak out over Dubai running a few ports and then turn around and tearfully defend the principle of having underpaid, undertrained and underqualified people watching over practically every other sensitive area. And by every other sensitive area, I’m serious:
Daniels was employed until last fall by Wackenhut Services Inc., the private security firm that guards Homeland’s headquarters in a residential area of Washington. The company has been criticized previously for its work at nuclear facilities and transporting nuclear weapons.
I can hear it now, the wailing about how we should prosecute the reporters because terrorists now know that undertrained buffoons guard our most sensitive nuclear facilities. I’d feel a lot safer if we knew who was guarding these facilities, and we knew that they were doing their job.
” I’d feel a lot safer if we knew who was guarding these facilities”
And also their addresses. And where their children go to school. And exactly what brand of alarm system they have at home and also when said home is likely to be empty. C’mon, we have the right to know!
I do hope you’re snarking, Jeff R. I think the American public has every right to know, if not the actual names, then at least the training and safety records of who is guarding these facilities. If they’re government employees, then technically, they’re YOUR employees. You should at least be privy to proof that they’re trained and qualified to do their jobs.
The Other Steve
Actually it’s the same people defending both.
Wal-Mart republicans… who believe low quality is acceptable if you can save a few pennies.
Doesn’t “Wackenhut Services Inc.” sound like something Groucho Marx would have been in charge of?
Let’s combine 22 Federal Agencies into 1 big agency.
Nope, no clusterfuck here.
Of course we know who is guarding these facilities. It is obviously whichever security company has donated the most money to the Republican Party. Because, you know, they are the party that takes national security seriously.
I think Jeff R thinks he lives in a bad Tom Cruise movie, where NOC lists are used to wipe out entire security structures and nuclear facilities can be destroyed if you just know how to play a good game of Pac Man on a Pentium with the great AI chip.
Wackenhut watchdog site:
I’m a bit confused. Which is more potent a defense, the knowledge that our nuclear instillations, our federal buildings, and our essential infrastructure is being guarded by a competant and skillful security agency, or the fear that they MIGHT be guarded by a not-entirely-unskillful not-completely-incompetant security agency.
There is such a thing as a “show of force” that serves just as much a deteriant as concealed information. Would you still be complaining if a newspaper article revealed our major infrastructures were being guarded by elite teams of ex-Marine and FBI security personal or a private agency with a glowing record and amazing response time? Would such an article be a “threat to national security”?
I agree that pointing out leaks in the dam certainly has the potential to reveal weak points for terrorists, but I question whether NOT pointing out leaks in the dam PROTECTS us from terrorist attacks. God forbid someone were to point out back in 2000 that American Airlines airport security was lax, or that US planes could be easily hijacked. I’m sure that would only have made 9/11 worse, right?
Well, it depends. If you take it as a given that the Bush Administration is not motivated to actually fix any holes in the dam, then I guess the only patriotic thing to do is refrain from pointing them out and hope no one notices.
The problem is that the media operates in a sort of fantasy world where you petition the government for a redress of grievances and then – stop me if you’ve heard this one – you actually get some form of redress!
No one could have anticipated that there might be holes in the dam.
The Other Steve
The holes in the dam didn’t exist until someone in the media pointed them out.
The Other Steve
I think we’ve just merged metaphysics with politics.
Wackenhut? The old guys in the golf carts outside the strip mall?
Words fail me.
Hey hey, don’t knock my Wackenhut buddies. They were the only line of defense we had at Broward County’s Northwest Regional Library against the insane middle schoolers that invaded our building every day and turned the second floor into a playground…
It bears noting that the underpaid guards make from “$15.60 to $23 an hour,” according to the article. I’d guess that the contract rate for the guards is probably two to three times that wage. It may be a lot of things but it isn’t being done on the cheap.
just as long as they aren’t union…
Al – That’s even worse, then.
A bunch of Don Knotts/Barney Fife knockoffs are guarding our Nuclear Facilities and people like Jeff R think we shouldn’t have the right to know that…..
What is it like having faith in this Administration? Boundless, empty, unqualified faith?
Wackenhut may be a stupid name, but this just isn’t a keystone kops security company with golf carts.
These guys are the original Halliburton. They pretty much run the Texas Prison System, are owned by ex-CIA honchos and have had their fingers in a lot of pies nationally and internationally. Since I moved from Texas 10 years ago, I hadn’t heard much about them, but it’s a mistake to dismiss them as just a dumb company. They are malignant.
If there’s one thing that Republicans can’t be accused of, it’s awarding government contracts to the cheapest bidder.
Well, speaking just for myself, until this particular disappointing little factoid dropped my lap I was feeling a lot better. Or at least, less disgusted. That comfortable feeling that comes with ignorance must count for something…
And I wonder if that’s not likely to be a low guess. This is all part of the meme that the private sector can do everything better than the public sector so we’ll outsource it to our major campaign contributors at several multiples of the cost of doing it with, say, MP’s.
The Other Steve
Well that certainly doesn’t improve my opinion of Republicans.
Cray man wrote:
Outsourcing to the private sector is simply a legalized form of cronyism.
The Bush form of ‘capitalism’ has nothing to do with competition or markets or economy or efficiency. Or public policy or ‘homeland’ security or anything else.
It’s just straight-up Mafia-style extortion. I would feel pity for the people who believe his bullshit, but unfortunately they’re taking all the rest of us down with them.
When Republicans say “better” you have to understand that they mean “cheaper”, usually with disregard for quality of any fashion.
One of the hang ups about the voucher program is that if you just leave the private sector to educate our kids then it’s pretty much a garantee that they’ll sell our kids out. Schools run like insurance companies – PPOs and HMOs with the rich getting to pay through the nose for quality service will the poor pay less to get nothing.
When Republicans talk about outsourcing national security you can bet we’ll be receiving the same deal. Those living in gated communities and on forty acre ranches will be protected and provided for assuming they’re ready to front the money. Those who can’t afford get to suffer as social programs are cut to pay off the cheap-ass corporation giving kickbacks to politicians while they skimp on even the basics of a national defense.
And what’s even more insulting is the fact that it is often not, in fact, cheaper. But you can bank on seeing a lot of money going to well-connected political supporters.
Just another part of the vast kleptocratic conspiracy that’s running this country.
I’d put that story under the category of “horrifyingly funny.” But, I think referring to the security guards as under-trained buffoons is a bit of a cheap shot.
Yes, under-trained buffoons everywhere await your apology.
(Sorry had to, I have no information as to form an opinion on the subject. My name is Pooh, and I did not approve this message.)
No, no, Zifnab, you’re thinking of the old Republicans. Nowadays when Republicans say “better” they mean “in a way that enriches my campaign contributors, friends, relatives, and (as soon as I get out of office, assuming I’m the old-fashioned sort who doesn’t want to take the bribes now) me”.
The Other Steve
I think you mean… (as soon as I get out of prison). :-)
I don’t know, Other Steve. I think Duke’s been cut loose (or at least they’re doing their best to see that he is). Now Scooter Libby might be an example of a guy who gets a “vacation” in prison while the mob puts aside some money (or a lucrative position at a right-wing think tank or government contractor) to give him when he gets out, as long as he obeys the principle of omertà.
On the subject of outsourcing security guard work – it’s been done at federal buildings in the D.C. area for as long as I can remember. To my recollection, only a handful of federal buildings in D.C. have actual gubmint employees for guards – the White House (uniformed Secret Service); the Capitol (Capitol Hill Police); the Supreme Court (Sergeant at Arms – though he might use contract guards too); and I think there might be a DOD Police force guarding the Pentagon, though it might just be military police in civilian cruisers. DOJ Main *might* have Marshalls, but everywhere else is guarded by the civilian guard forces. So it has been for at least a decade.
The stuff about Republican union busting leading to these dire straits is garbage. Many of the guard companies are unionized, and almost all federal law enforcement officers and agents are unionized as well.
That’s sort of my point: wouldn’t it be reasonable to think that the DHS headquarters would be another of the several places where security concerns would be such that a higher level of security would be required, than the civilian firms seem to be able to supply? If they’re really serious about security, or even the appearance of security, that is.
For example, you don’t see rent-a-cops guarding military bases. Uh, I don’t think… yet…
VidaLoca, of course we have contractors guarding military bases. We have contractors doing just about everything nowadays.
Seems to me that requiring DHS to provide their own security might have the paradoxical result of creating more non-union jobs, since I presume we’re all familiar with the union-baiting that was involved in the creation of DHS in the first place.
The ultimate issue is not so much with the fact that certain jobs are outsourced to contractors, but with the way the Republicans seem willing to award any given contract to whoever donates the most to the GOP. Patronage has run amok.
“The stuff about Republican union busting leading to these dire straits is garbage. Many of the guard companies are unionized, and almost all federal law enforcement officers and agents are unionized as well.”
I’d have to see proof of that, especially after the DHS reorganization, which specifically had union-busting and civil-service busting as goals.
With most federal agencies, Congress uses the budget process – via annual “authorization act” to set a cap on how many “full time employees” (FTE) (in other words federal employees) can be hired. Managers can generally use the personnel authorizations more or less as they see fit, subject to Congressional oversight & ratification via the annual budget process. The choice for managers is how they want to use those slots, and each year in the budget process they have to explain and justify the choices to Congress.
It is tougher in the law enforcement agencies and military, because Congress frequently dictates, via earmark, how many enforcement positions will be funded and staffed, along with authorizing an overall agency “end strength.” I believe that the Secret Service, Coast Guard, TSA, and Immigration & Customs Enforcement are under such quotas, which require a certain number of agents, screeners, or officers. DHS (and any other federal agency facing similar personnel strength constraints) then has a hard choice. They can try to raid component headquarters staffs, converting accounting, legal, training, information systems and operational control slots and turn those positions into security guard positions, a tough job because most agencies have a couple members of Congress that look out for them; or the Departmental HQ can choose to cannibalize its own headquarters in order to ensure that the guard force at its several HQ buildings in the D.C. area or wherever else (such as Oklahoma City) is comprised solely of federal employees. This is complicated by the civil service unions, which probably wouldn’t be happy to see a bunch of white collar accounting, legal, tech and senior law enforcement positions converted into an equal number of fairly low paid guard positions. It is also complicated by operational realities – those senior cops, or social security administrators or chief information officers are in those positions because they actually do something, usually pretty major things, for their Department.
It’s not to say security isn’t crap at a lot of federal facilities. But I’m not sure the reflexive answer – converting the guard positions into full time federal employees – is the right answer. Moreover, I’m reasonably certain that it’s not a problem that is reserved to Executive Branch discretion.
Throw money at it. Works every time.
Didn’t you get the memo? Every problem is now reserved to Executive Branch discretion — because we no longer have any separation of powers. All powers devolve from and reside in the Executive, just like in any banana republic.
Al Maviva is filibustering again. I’ll say it again – just stop awarding contracts on the basis of who gives the most money to the Republican Party, it’s not good for the country.
I don’t mean to insult you, but with thinking like that you deserve to be a member of the US Congress. Either House or Senate, it’s your choice.
Sorry to whack you with the facts, Steve. How ’bout I just give an answer that conforms to your stereotype of what a conservative should be – a DougJ troll or a less literate Ann Coulter type of pre-packaged soundbite response? Would you like that? Here, have some:
There, is that a better conservative argument for you? Does it fit within the limits of your ability to respond? Any chance you might contest the facts I threw out there? Nah, didn’t think so.
Yes, reciting a ton of irrelevant facts about the nuts and bolts of how staffing decisions are made just blew me away. All I had left in my rhetorical quiver was to accuse you of prattling on and on about nothing, a transparently false argument you ably saw through. Kudos to you, sir.
So here I sit, bereft of everything except my actual point, which I will repeat for you yet again:
But you constantly try to make this an issue of whether the security guards should be public or private, an issue that seems quite secondary to the issue of whether they should be competent. My contention is that Republican contracting procedures are considerably more corrupt and dysfunctional than what we get from the other guys.
In all seriousness, Al, you very visibly suffer from the malady of assuming you are the only intelligent person in the room.
I’m not smarter than everybody Steve, just you, and maybe only in just this one instance. Stripped down your argument is:
(1) Republicans are corrupt and engage in cronyism in handing out government contracts;
(2) This story alleges that there are physical security problems at DHS headquarters;
(3) Because there are problems, these problems must be attributable to Republican corruption.
Do you see any errors at all in your line of reasoning?
I’m not going to play the Socratic method with you, Al. Your summation of my argument is inaccurate; my contention is not that I know anything about how this particular contract was awarded, but that it is reasonable to infer that where an incompetent contractor is hired, Republican policies of corruption and cronyism are responsible. If you want to tell me you agree with the overall storyline but that this is an exception where the incompetence is attributable to something else, I’ll stipulate that we could dig deeper. If you want to dispute the overall claim that Republican corruption and cronyism are a serious problem that results in incompetence, then we should be talking about that, not quibbling over specific contracts.
On your reasonable inference… Looky here. It appears that Wackenhut was awarded its government-wide contract to provide security services in July 2000. Hmm. That took ten seconds to google. I wonder who was running things then? Would you infer it was a corrupt Republican? Wackenhut hasn’t updated their website and the contract linked to above appears to have ended in 2005, but it appears that they (along with ~150 other security services firms) are under a new contract.
If the facts matter to you – which I presume they don’t and you are writing this off as a fillibuster – the “contract” Wackenhut cites to isn’t really a contract as you envision it, it’s a “contract vehicle.” Agencies often pre-certify a contractor or a number of contractors to provide goods and services, at a time, quantity and place TBD by the government, relying on a fee schedule established when the contract vehicle is set up. It’s a “demand contract”. When the agency wants some work done, or some new supplies or materials, there may be a mini-bidding process between the pre-certified contractors, or the agency may simply directly request goods or services (e.g. “secure this building for the next three years”), and then pay for services rendered.
An agency that “owns” a contract can often invite all other government agencies to take advantage of the contract to procure services, per the Economy Act. The General Services Administration runs many contract vehicles, explained here, because its duty is to provide goods, services and facilities to all the other government agencies. But if there was corruption involved in the creation of the contract vehicle in which Wackenhut is listed, it is on an epic scale. Roughly 150 contractors work for the government on that particular contract vehicle or a couple of similar ones manged by GSA. That’s a hell of a lot of corruption to infer without having a specific basis in fact.
“The Burning Bag Of Poop Trick”
aka “The Contract with America”
Middle Aged Artillery Veteran
The Florida Experience: In 1993 some punk kids murdered a British tourist at a rest stop on I-10, and the state hired security guards to work the rest stops. A downstate paper did a check and found half of these guys had criminal records. Maybe the records were for something that wasn’t threatening, such as bad checks or making whiskey in the back yard, but the fact that criminal records were that common among the ranks of the Renta Cops was a bit worrisome.
And in Bay County, where sheriff’s guards at a “boot camp” recently beat a 14-year-old kid to death, they had Corrections Corporation of America run the jail. A woman in the jail reported being raped by a guard. CCA’s response, filed in court documents, was that (1) the sex was consensual, (2) anyway, no sex took place, and (3) How were we to know the guy had a felony conviction for burglary?
In response to Jeff R., well, maybe we should know a bit more about these guys.