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A $370 million program run by the U.S. Marshals Service to protect federal courthouses failed to detect mock explosive devices sent to several offices and screened by contractors using security equipment, according to a new Justice Department inspector general report.

The Marshals Service provides X-ray machines, metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and judicial chamber entry control devices to some 400 federal courthouses and facilities. It also hires some 5,000 court security guards through a private contractor to screen briefcases, packages, and other items.

A review of six unidentified district offices by the inspector general found the program failed to maintain current security plans, did not fully train all contractors on how to use screening equipment, failed to consistently test security procedures, and did not adequately analyze data about courthouse incidents and arrests.

In half of the six offices, chief judges expressed concerns about the physical security of courthouses, the report said. Worse, in February 2009, a half-dozen guards at several offices failed to detect mock explosive devices sent by the Marshals Service headquarters to district offices for local testing purposes, the inspector general said.

“We believe the failure of these district offices to identify these mock explosives devices, and the failure of USMS headquarters to identify whether other district offices similarly failed to identify these devices, demonstrates that additional oversight from USMS headquarters is needed,” the report said.

The inspector general also criticized the 2006 award of a $300 million contract to a court security officer contractor, USProtect Corp., despite a history of fraud convictions and a fraud alert issued by the Justice Department. The company eventually went bankrupt. Another shortcoming: More than half of the personnel files reviewed had out-of-date medical examination records and 18 percent lacked the required firearms proficiency test records.

The Marshals Service, in a letter attached to the report, concurred with all the inspector general recommendations.

FAST FACT: Court security officers carry firearms, are often former law enforcement officers, and are responsible for stopping weapons from being brought into federal courthouses. Three companies currently provide federal court security guards: Akal Security Inc., MVM Inc., and Ares Group Inc.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities.


* HUD inspector general says it plans to issue letter to the department’s management by Jan. 15 “describing other issues of concern that came to our attention” during an annual audit. The HUD audit for fiscal 2010 found several internal control deficiencies, including the need for better monitoring of subsidy calculations and intermediaries’ performance. (OIG)


* In awarding $190.7 million of economic stimulus funds for leaking underground storage tank clean ups, the EPA neglected to ensure money went to priority sites under the Solid Waste Disposal Act. (OIG)


* HUD fell short of conditions placed on its fiscal 2010 IT modernization spending plan by failing to detail the risks of each project and how it will mitigate those risks. By law, HUD cannot spend more than one-fourth of some $180 million in IT modernization funds until it provides the required details. (GAO)

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