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    « The Korean Peninsula: Aftermath Of The 'Sunshine Policy' | Main | Is Europe's Increasing Use Of Biofuels Counterproductive For The Environment? »

    New US Govt Report: Taxpayers Wasting $370 Million On Federal Courts' Security?

    A new report has been released by the US Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on security of the federal court houses. When tested by the OIG, through extensive study of available records, conducting interviews and field visits, the OIG found this program to be so poorly managed as to have serious doubts about it's impact on actual security of the federal courthouses. 

    Here is an excerpt from the OIG report: "The United States Marshals Service (USMS) is the primary provider of court security services to the federal judiciary. The USMS’s Judicial Facilities Security Program, which is administered by USMS headquarters and funded by the federal judiciary, provides 2 main services to more than 400 U.S. federal court facilities nationwide:  (1) court security officers (CSO), and (2) security systems and equipment, including X-ray machines, surveillance cameras, duress alarms, and judicial chambers entry control devices. 

    The CSOs deployed by the USMS to federal court facilities are contract workers procured through contracts with private security firms in each of the 12 federal judicial circuits.  As of June 2010, over 5,000 CSOs were assigned to federal court facilities throughout the United States.  As with CSOs, the security systems obtained by the USMS are also obtained through a contract with a private security provider. In fiscal year (FY) 2009, approximately $370 million were allocated by the federal judiciary for the USMS’s court security services.

    According to the USMS, CSOs are experienced former law enforcement officers who receive limited deputations as special Deputy U.S. Marshals. Using USMS security screening systems CSOs are responsible for detecting and intercepting weapons and other prohibited items from individuals attempting to bring them into federal courthouses. Along with Deputy U.S. Marshals, CSOs also assist in providing security at facilities that house federal court operations.  

    The objective of this (OIG) audit was to assess the USMS’s oversight of its Judicial Facilities Security Program. We found weaknesses in the USMS’s efforts to secure federal court facilities in the six USMS district offices we visited.  In two districts we found non-functioning Court Security Committees and in three districts the Chief Judges expressed concerns related to the physical security of courthouses. Additionally, we found that not all Judicial Security Inspectors and CSOs have been fully trained on the use of security screening equipment. Three of the six USMS district offices failed to conduct the quarterly testing required by USMS policy regarding security procedures to screen visitors, packages, and mail delivered to the courthouses. 

    Our review also found that the USMS’s management of its CSO contracts needs improvement. We found that the USMS’s Office of Security Contracts awarded a contract worth about $300 million to a CSO contractor with a history of fraudulent activities.  This contract was awarded despite a fraud alert issued by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (DOJ OIG) Investigations Division. 

    We also identified issues with the USMS’s maintenance of CSO personnel files. Through our review of a sample of 60 CSO personnel files we found that 2 percent lacked the required medical examination records and 63 percent contained out-of-date medical examination records. In addition, 18 percent lacked the required firearms qualification records and 47 percent of the firearms qualifications were out of date. Our limited file review presents serious concerns about the medical and firearms qualifications for CSOs."

    The OIG report gives further examples of failures they noted in the system. Here are some examples from the OIG report: 

    • In one of the six districts that the OIG visited, they were informed that the judicial security plan had not been updated since 1983 and in two other districts the OIG could not even determine when (if ever) the security plan was last updated. 
    • USMS policy directives state that each district office shall assign a principal coordinator to the local district Court Security Committee, which is responsible for assessing the adequacy of district-wide court security. In one of the districts OIG found that the Court Security Committee did not function properly due to lack of regular meeting, while in another district the OIG found that the Court Security Committee did not even exist.
    • USMS policy requires that Judicial Security Inspectors in each district office conduct quarterly unannounced tests to determine if CSOs are adequately screening visitors, packages, and mail that are delivered to the courthouse. The OIG found that at three of the six districts that it surveyed, these quarterly tests were not being regularly performed. In February of 2009, when USMS Office of Security Systems shipped testing kits to each of the USMS district offices that contained mock explosive devices, several of these mock devices cleared security screening entirely undetected at the local district offices.
    • The USMS maintains data on arrests and other incidents, such as attempts to bring illegal weapons or contraband into court facilities, bomb threats, and assaults.  This data is collected at the district level and reported to the USMS Office of Court Security. The OIG found that not only did all the districts not regularly report this data but the data that was reported was hardly ever actually analyzed, making the entire process useless. 
    • The USMS has no system to ensure that Judicial Security Inspectors and CSOs are adequately trained on newly deployed equipment, per OIG. As such some of the security features of new equipment are not being used mainly because no one has received training on these features.  

    For millions who now have to undergo even more invasive screening at airports and courthouses, and federal buildings, in the name of security, this report is hardly comforting. Are we merely wasting hundreds of millions of dollars of the taxpayers' money in these elaborate schemes of dubious quality and utility? Are we indeed more secure because of all this?

     ~ Gauri

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