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On the outside looking in: working for the government versus working for a contractor - one security professional's reflections.


A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, I WAS part of a highly trained and inspired security force of a major contractor that was doing work for a federal agency. Our mission: to protect assets relating to national security.

I expected some tension within the organization because it had so many dedicated individuals who had their own vision of how to carry out this mission best. I did not expect, however, to be told the agency we worked for did not appreciate our diligence and cared less for our esprit de corps. Consequently, the series of events that followed had serious effects on the members of the security force, the contractor, the relationship between the contractor and the agency, and, most importantly, the ability to provide good security.

The first step in the demoralization of our security force concerned physical fitness requirements, which were forced on us by the agency. We resented these requirements because they did not accommodate older and less physically capable personnel. Consequently, a substantial percentage of the staff members were forced out of their jobs.

The individuals who lost their jobs were mentors to many of us who remained. We did not know who to trust. This paranoia led to another major exodus of many qualified workers from the security force.

The departure of these capable persons created other problems. Training programs were neglected. It became obvious that the newly promoted supervisors were more interested in their futures than in seeing that those of us who were left had the proper skills and confidence we needed. This neglect was a signal to us that we were no longer valued members of the organization. Both the security line personnel and supervisors became apathetic and complacent.

An additional problem resulted from this sudden shortage of security personnel - forced overtime. Employees who did not work the overtime when directed were reprimanded. Those who failed to comply were given time off without pay. Resentment grew.

The contractor decided the only solution to the security force's overtime problem was to reduce its need for overtime. The only way this could be done, according to the contractor, was not to hire and train new employees but to remove the materials that required so much security in the first place. This necessitated downgrading the facility's status. This action, in short, would free up time for training and bolster our lost esprit de corps - or so we thought.

No sooner was the facility's status downgraded and the sensitive materials removed than nearly 50 percent of the security force was laid off and training significantly cut back. The contractor offered no viable explanation for either laying off more people or reducing training.

My coworkers and I were totally shocked. Who could we trust? Whose hidden agenda were we following - the agency's or the contractor's?

I NOW WORK FOR THE AGENCY THAT supposedly created all the problems for my previous employer. I am, in other words, on the outside looking in.

Having been in this job for a while, I have learned about the methods certain contractors use to deceive and manipulate responsible oversight agencies. I have had time to reflect and piece together what happened to a really good security force.

My previous employer had been forewarned by the agency of the upcoming physical fitness requirement three years prior to its implementation. In fact, the requirements were posted in The Federal Register.

After the employees who were unable to meet the physical fitness requirements were laid off, the contractor made little effort to place them in other positions within the facility.

Looking back on the shortage of personnel and the resulting forced overtime, I can sympathize with the agency. The assets we were charged to secure were vital to national security, and the agency felt it necessary to require a minimum amount of safeguards and security to prevent the loss or compromise of those assets.

At the outset, the contractor proposed and agreed to a set of binding contracts with the agency to enforce these safeguards. The contractor, however, had a hidden agenda: to cut costs by freeing itself of security constraints and compliance.

One way to cut costs would have been to rewrite those contracts. It was simply easier, however, for the contractor to use an employee issue - the overtime problem - as a scapegoat. By trimming down security personnel, it was no longer eligible to safeguard high security materials or, therefore, pass the government's rigorous inspections. The contractor did not take an interest in revitalizing the remaining staff but washed its hands of the mess completely. Consequently, when the security force was evaluated, its competence level dropped below minimum standards.

HOW COULD THIS HAVE BEEN PREvented? The buck has to stop somewhere, and in this case it should have stopped with the contractor.

The contractor's security force was placed in the hands of individuals who had their own agenda; they were driven by cost, not compliance. These persons, who held top positions in the organization with direct access to the facility's director, were not security professionals.

A security professional is the best person to represent a security force. Security is a specialized field, especially when it comes to satisfying the requirements necessary to obtain and maintain government contracts. Who better to advise the director and administer such a program than a well-versed and well-trained security professional?

These mistakes can be prevented by implementing the following suggestions:

* Contractors and federal agencies should use the formal contract process to security's advantage. A clause within the contract should require that only qualified security professionals be considered for upper management positions.

* Contractors should formulate corporate policies requiring their employees to comply with the directives generated by their oversight agencies.

* Federal agencies should respond immediately when they notice discrepancies in their contractors' organizations.

* Penalties for noncompliance should be enforced rather than threatened.

Initiatives must be taken to prevent the demise of competent security departments. A positive first step to prevent scenarios like the one I have recounted would be to defend the necessity of placing security professionals in upper management positions. This would ensure that the director is fully apprised of such situations.

George L. Liscic, CPP, is a personnel security specialist for the US Department of Energy in Argonne, IL. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Liscic, George L.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Nov 1, 1989
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