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In Wake of Navy Yard Shooting, Senate Panel Questions Screening Procedures

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Carper led a full committee hearing on “The Navy Yard Tragedy: Examining Government Clearances and Background Checks.”

Three months after the day 12 people were gunned down in Washington’s Navy Yard, a Senate panel questioned whether screening is up to par at federal facilities and if privately contracted guards are adequately trained for active shooter situations.

“In the aftermath, it’s only natural that we wonder if all people entering a federal facility, even employees, should be screened in some way,” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., said at Tuesday’s hearing. “Should we, to borrow an often-used phrase from Ronald Reagan, ‘trust, but verify’?”

Current Department of Defense policy does not require people to walk through a metal detection device, but it does allow for random screening of individuals, explained Stephen Lewis a deputy director with the DOD speaking on behalf of Michael Vickers, the under secretary for intelligence.

“The drawback to screening every employee coming through is the negative impact on mission accomplishment,” Lewis said. Some facilities have “10,000 employees coming through often in roughly the same window, and, you know, screening every employee would be disruptive to getting the work done,” he said, noting the agency has to add cost into the equation.

L. Eric Patterson, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service, said his agency puts a lot of trust in background investigations, but he noted that at some facilities, such as the Department of Transportation, everyone who enters is screened. The FPS protects nearly 9,600 federal facilities under the control and custody of the General Services Administration.

“To date, we have not had a problem in most of our facilities, we haven’t had a problem with our employees or with the folks who have been screened,” Patterson said. If the FPS decided to screen everyone, he said, they would have to work with the GSA to organize traffic flow.

“At 8 ... in the morning when you have hundreds of people entering a building, and they are accustomed to moving through and showing a badge based upon a security clearance, it could create somewhat of a challenge,” Patterson said. “It could create a challenge.”

Senators pressed the witnesses to respond to a September Government Accountability Office report, pointing out that some of the 13,500 guards contracted through the FPS do not have training on how to respond to active shooter situations.

According to Mark L. Goldstein, the director of the GAO’s Physical Infrastructure Issues unit, contracted guards receive 120 hours of training, with only two hours devoted to special events “and only a fraction of that two hours actually covers active-shooter training.”

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