USSA Failure is Not an Option for Washingtonians

 

Since 2009 U.S. Security Associates (USSA) has provided security at Washington D.C.’s public buildings and schools. Now the Council of the District of Columbia is reviewing USSA’s contract for D.C.’s public schools and will soon review the private security company’s contract for the rest of the District’s public facilities.

The Council should look at USSA’s track record throughout the country. When it does it will find — across 14 states — a history of lawsuits claiming sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, retaliation against whistleblowers and wage violations, as well as Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations. The discrimination and retaliation cases have resulted in judgments and consent decrees totaling more than $4 million.

Then the Council should turn its attention back to D.C. and look at USSA’s record on security “penetration exercises.”

A security penetration exercise is a physical test to evaluate the effectiveness of security operations at a given facility. In Washington, the Department of Real Estate Services (DRES) conducts such tests through its Protective Services Division (PSD) by having uniformed and plain-clothed agents attempt to sneak weapons into public buildings.

How did USSA perform on these penetration exercises?

According to a 2010 memo to USSA personnel, the company failed — miserably. A USSA manager writes, “Each time PSD has conducted a penetration exercise we have failed. This is not acceptable.”

The USSA manager continues, “What makes these failed penetrations even more unbelievable to me is that each of you knows LT J* and LT F*. When they arrive on your posts you should take your awareness level up a notch!”

But USSA is seriously missing the point. This is not about passing the tests by, in effect, giving employees the answers ahead of time. It’s about the safety of everybody who visits or works in the District’s public buildings.

Security screening is extremely demanding work. It requires a level of alertness that can only be maintained by well-trained, experienced, and well-compensated officers in an environment with sufficient staffing, adequate breaks, and open lines of communication between front-line officers and management.

These conditions are best met by responsible security contractors — companies that pay decent wages and benefits while providing quality security services — not by contractors like USSA.

* Names redacted for privacy.

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