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PBS Is Not Assessing High-Risk Uses of Space by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies, Raising Safety and Security Issues

Why We Performed This Audit

In March 2022, we issued an audit report on the GSA Public Buildings Service’s (PBS’s) fire, safety, and health space evaluation policy. During that audit, we found that PBS had not set consistent expectations for federal law enforcement agencies regarding the transportation of detainees through GSA-controlled (both owned and leased) space, the possession and storage of seized drugs, and the storage of small arms and ammunition. As a result, we included this audit in our Fiscal Year 2022 Audit Plan. 

We performed this audit to determine if PBS’s safety assessments of GSA-controlled space for federal law enforcement agencies provide safe and secure environments in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, policies, and guidance. Specifically, we focused on federal law enforcement agencies’ high-risk uses of space and how PBS addresses procedures for the transportation of detainees through GSA-controlled areas, the storage of seized drugs, and the storage of ammunition. 


What We Found

PBS is not effectively managing high-risk uses of GSA-controlled space occupied by federal law enforcement agencies. We found that PBS does not define some federal law enforcement activities as high-risk activities. As a result, PBS is not always aware of the safety and security risks these activities pose to building tenants, visitors, and first responders and does not consistently take steps to mitigate these risks. During our inspections of 25 sampled buildings, we identified the following safety and security risks: 

  • Detainees were transported through unsecure public pathways;
  • Seized drugs were stored in evidence vaults that lacked proper ventilation; and
  • Fire and safety risks from the storage of ammunition in law enforcement armories were not mitigated.

We also found that PBS has not established clear lines of responsibility for notifying first responders of the location of armories during fire emergencies. 


What We Recommend

We recommend that the PBS Commissioner:

  1.  Address the specific safety and security risks we identified by ensuring, in coordination with the federal law enforcement agencies, that:
    1. Detainees are transported through secure pathways to minimize safety and security threats to building tenants and visitors; 
    2. Seized drugs are stored in an area that prevents the drug particles from becoming airborne; and 
    3. Roles and responsibilities are established for notifying emergency responders of the location of armories during fire emergencies.
  2. Conduct a comprehensive assessment to identify and expedite actions to mitigate safety and security risks at each GSA-controlled space that federal law enforcement agencies occupy.
  3. Expand GSA Order PBS 1000.4B, High Risk Operations, to identify, assess, and mitigate risks associated with transporting detainees, storing seized drugs, and storing ammunition in GSA-controlled space.

In his response to our report, the PBS Commissioner agreed with Recommendations 1 and 2, but partially agreed with Recommendation 3. PBS’s response can be found in its entirety in Appendix C.

The PBS Commissioner acknowledges that transporting detainees, storing seized drugs, and storing ammunition in GSA-controlled space represent security or safety risks. However, he implies that these are not high-risk activities and concludes that PBS’s High Risk Operations policy “is not the appropriate place to address these issues.”

We disagree. For the reasons described in the report, the transportation of detainees, storage of seized drugs, and storage of ammunition are each inherently high-risk activities. Because these activities are not identified under PBS’s High Risk Operations policy, PBS is not evaluating, assessing, and mitigating the associated safety and security risks. Accordingly, we reaffirm our recommendation.

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Public Buildings Service
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