MANPOWER FOR HIRE
Under pressures to improve security in a time of scarce resources, government agencies are searching for ways to increase their efficiency and free up more law enforcement resources. One solution is outsourcing. Government agencies are increasingly turning to private security companies to provide contract security officers and personnel to perform law enforcement support duties.
The Role of the Private Security Company
Security is not inherently governmental, and is a specialized function that focuses on deterrence, detection and reporting. Private security companies have a long track record of focusing on these principles, as well as an established history supporting government agencies on a contract basis. Law enforcement, on the other hand, is inherently governmental, and is best equipped to focus on its main mission of investigation, pursuit and apprehension, rather than duplicating the expertise readily available through the private sector. Government agencies who outsource their security and support functions thus liberate their resources for reallocation into the field.
Private security companies support the federal government in several highly-specialized security roles. The Department of Justice, U.S. Marshals Service, and intelligence community, as examples, currently contract with a private security firm for access control functions. Officers on these contracts are armed and often have special government-issued deputizations and clearances to give them limited, on-site powers of arrest and access to sensitive information.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has also recently contracted with a private firm for law enforcement support. Officers in this arena guard prisoners during transport to various medical facilities and courthouses. The Immigration and Naturalization Service contracts out access control functions at its headquarters and at detention centers around the country for custody services. Furthermore, the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Justice have also sought and procured Explosive Detection Canine services from the contract community.
In addition to these established service areas, the government is beginning to outsource more specialized security work in several areas:
threat assessments — both domestically and internationally to develop security plans for physical, informational, and personnel assets;
executive protection — for U.S. Government officials as well as foreign Heads of State;
international access control — for Government posts and bases abroad;
security protocol development — particularly for airport security programs;
rapid response teams — for short-notice support in response to events such as protests, strikes and demonstrations; and
levels of detection personnel and equipment — airports and other areas of high public traffic are contracting with private security companies to provide staff to monitor and employ sophisticated screening technology such as explosive residue “Sniffers.”
The government is also looking for private security firms to provide administrative support to law enforcement functions. Agencies such as the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of Defense are contracting with private firms for investigative and case management support.
Private Security vs.Law Enforcement Officers
The qualifications of private security officers differ from those of law enforcement officers. Although the contracting agency specifies the personnel requirements of any particular contract, in general, the government employs one of two strategies when soliciting qualified guards: high initial qualifications standards and minimal additional training; or standard initial qualifications with high-intensity training.
The Department of Justice and U.S. Marshals Service, as examples, require three years of experience as a certified law enforcement officer. Officers with these backgrounds have already received vast security training at law enforcement academies, and contract training therefore consists of refresher topics such as CPR, first aid, intermediate levels of force and contract operations-specific information.
The General Services Administration (GSA), on the other hand, requires candidates to have security, military, or law enforcement experience, or possess a college degree. By casting its net wider, GSA qualifies more potential officer candidates with diverse security backgrounds. GSA couples these initial requirements with rigorous training programs — 72 to 120 hours of initial training that far surpasses commercial security guard norms and prepares officers to stand post in high-profile missions.
Government vs. Commercial Contracts
Officers serving on government contracts also differ from officers on commercial contracts. Because government contracts involve highly sensitive missions often in high-profile and pressured situations, they demand candidates that meet a higher standard of quality than most commercial customers require.
Supervision ratios, for example, tend to be much higher in the government sector. The GSA generally specifies a 1 to 8 ratio of supervisors to officers — far greater than a typical commercial supervisory average of 1 to 16.
Physical requirements also tend to be more rigorous for officers serving on government contracts, with pre-employment and annual medical examinations by certified physicians a frequent contract requirement.
Furthermore, the health and welfare benefits that officers serving on government contracts receive typically far exceed those associated with commercial work. These benefit plans, as well as officer wages, are usually dictated by pre-established wage determinations.
What Government Contractors Need to Know
Selecting a quality private security contract is a critical component of developing a successful security program. Particularly with respect to government contracts, not just any provider can get the job done.
Successful security companies will have several strengths. First, they must be financially stable. Maintaining a reliable payroll is imperative to providing successful security service, particularly because officers who do not get paid are less likely to show up to work, and vacant posts are an immediate and automatic security failure. In government agreements, the company must have enough cash flow to handle the initial 60-90-day delay in receiving payment from the agency, yet still make payroll for its officers from the first day.
Companies must also be managerially capable of handling the assignment. The senior management teams of the strongest firms have significant law enforcement and private security experience from varying backgrounds. Diversity is strength — companies with upper management from the same agency or background may not be able to deal with the variety of government contract issues that a well-balanced management team does.
Training is also a key component to security success. The strongest companies have their own academies, where they run live, scenario-based courses. Video instruction is simply not as effective as an in-person instructor who can demonstrate and test students on their knowledge.
The ultimate test of a company’s strength is not what they say they can accomplish, but what they do accomplish. To verify a company’s strength, customers should check its past performance record. Previous customers should speak highly of their vendor in all areas of contract operation — daily responsibilities, emergency response, problem resolution, and reporting reliability. It’s also worth asking how many of the contracts won were re-competes, in which the customer decided to sign up for another extended period of time.
With an understanding of the marks of strength for security companies and the convenience of procuring services off of the GSA schedule, outsourcing security needs is an effective way for government agencies to react to the pressures of today’s security environment. As Homeland security requirements demand more of our government agencies, private security companies are a creative solution to the problem of scarce resources.
Dave Westrate is senior vice president of government operations for MVM Inc., a McLean, Va.-based security and staffing company.