Homeland Security:

Actions Needed to Improve Security Practices at National Icons and Parks

GAO-09-983: Published: Aug 28, 2009. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 2009.

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The September 11 terrorist attacks have heightened concerns about the security of the nation's icons and parks, which millions of people visit every year. The National Park Service (Park Service) within the Department of the Interior (Interior) is responsible for securing nearly 400 park units that include icons and other parks. In 2004, GAO identified a set of key protection practices that include: allocating resources using risk management, leveraging technology, information sharing and coordination, performance measurement and testing, and strategic management of human capital. As requested, GAO determined whether the Park Service's security efforts for national icons and parks reflected key practices. To meet this objective, GAO used its key practices as criteria, reviewed five icons and parks to gain firsthand knowledge, analyzed Interior documents, and interviewed Interior officials.

The Park Service has implemented a range of security improvements since the September 11 terrorist attacks and has worked to integrate security into its primary mission to preserve national icons and parks for the public's enjoyment. For example, it has established a senior-level security manager position and taken steps to strengthen security at the icons, and is developing a risk management program for small parks. These efforts exhibit some aspects of the key protection practices, but GAO found limitations in each of the areas. The Park Service does not allocate resources using risk management servicewide or cost-effectively leverage technology. While the Park Service, with assistance from Interior, has conducted risk assessments and implemented countermeasures to enhance security at the icons, some critical vulnerabilities remain. Moreover, the Park Service has not advanced this risk management approach for icons to the rest of its national parks. Without a servicewide risk management approach, the Park Service lacks assurance that security efforts are focused where they are needed. Furthermore, while icons and parks may use a variety of security technologies and other countermeasures, they do not have guidance for evaluating the cost-effectiveness of these investments, thus limiting assurances of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Additionally, the Park Service faces limitations with sharing and coordinating information internally and lacks a servicewide approach for routine performance measurement and testing. Although the Park Service collaborates with external organizations, it lacks comparable arrangements for internal security communications and, as a result, parks are not equipped to share information with one another on common security problems and solutions. Furthermore, the Park Service has not established security performance measures and lacks an analysis tool that could be used to evaluate program effectiveness and inform an overall risk management strategy. Thus, icons and parks have little information on the status and performance of security that they can use to manage daily activities or that Park Service management can use to manage security throughout the organization. Finally, strategic human capital management is an area of concern because of the Park Service's lack of clearly defined security roles and a security training curriculum. For example, staff that are assigned security duties are generally not required to meet qualifications or undergo specialized training. Absent a security training curriculum, there is less assurance that staff are well-equipped to effectively identify and mitigate risks at national icons and parks.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2009, we reported that the National Park Service faced several challenges in protecting national icons and parks from the threat of terrorism. These challenges related to managing risk, leveraging technology, communicating internally, measuring performance, and managing human capital. With regard to managing human capital, we recommended that the Park Service develop and implement a strategy for more clearly defining security roles and responsibilities within the Park Service, which should, among other things, ensure that the Park Service is well equipped at the national and regional levels to oversee security improvements. The Park Service took several actions to implement this recommendation, including (1) establishment of the Icon Protection Council, which, among other things, provides a mechanism for managers of icon parks to define roles and share ideas on implementation, (2) creation of a Homeland Security Division within the U.S. Park Police to define the roles and responsibilities of staff responsible for the protection of icon parks, and, (3) training in physical security methods for staff responsible for the oversight of the protection program at their respective locations. These actions form a strategy that focuses attention on security roles and responsibilities and will better equip the Park Service to address ongoing security challenges.

    Recommendation: In order to better oversee and more efficiently manage the protection of the vast and diverse inventory of the national icons and parks, the secretary should instruct the Director of the National Park Service, in consulation with OLES, to develop and implement a strategy for more clearly defining security roles and responsibilities within the Park Service, which should, among other things, ensure thatthe Park Service is well equipped at the national and regional levels to oversee security improvements.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2009, we reported that the National Park Service faced several challenges in protecting national icons and parks from the threat of terrorism. These challenges related to managing risk, leveraging technology, communicating internally, measuring performance, and managing human capital. With regard to measuring performance, we recommended that the Park Service develop and implement a performance management and testing program that includes specific measures and an evaluation component, which can be used to inform broader risk management decision-making and to assess security performance. The Park Service took several actions to implement this recommendation, including (1) periodic joint security assessments with the department's Office of Law Enforcement and Security and the Park Service's Intelligence and Security Manager, (2) monthly preparation of performance reports by the U.S. Park Police at icons, (3) use of certain icon parks to test and evaluate emerging technologies, (4) live testing using inert devices to evaluate contract security officer performance, and (5) evaluation of contract security officer performance using computer simulation. These actions represent a major step forward in the Park Service's performance measurement and testing capabilities and will better inform future security enhancements and actions.

    Recommendation: In order to better oversee and more efficiently manage the protection of the vast and diverse inventory of the national icons and parks, the secretary should instruct the Director of the National Park Service, in consulation with OLES, to develop and implement a servicewide performance management and testing program that includes specific measures and an evaluation component, which can be used to inform broader risk management decision-making and to assess security performance.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2009, we reported that the National Park Service faced several challenges in protecting national icons and parks from the threat of terrorism. These challenges related to managing risk, leveraging technology, communicating internally, measuring performance, and managing human capital. Related to internal communication, we recommended that the Park Service develop and implement an internal communication strategy for security to address coordination gaps, including a timeline for the development of a Web portal for security. The Park Service took several actions to implement this recommendation, including (1) establishment of an Icon Protection Council to provide a forum and method for effective internal communication, (2) monthly suspicious activity reports, and (3) sharing of information obtained through the Park Service's representation on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Force. Park Service officials said that while they have not developed a web portal, they have been able to utilize other available web portals hosted by FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to achieve the same purpose. These improvements meet the intent of our recommendation related to internal communication and will enhance the Park Service's capabilities with regard to national icon and park protection.

    Recommendation: In order to better oversee and more efficiently manage the protection of the vast and diverse inventory of the national icons and parks, the secretary should instruct the Director of the National Park Service, in consulation with OLES, to develop and implement an internal communications strategy for security to address coordination gaps, including a timeline for the development of a servicewide Web portal for security.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2009, we reported that the National Park Service faced several challenges in protecting national icons and parks from the threat of terrorism. These challenges related to managing risk, leveraging technology, communicating internally, measuring performance, and managing human capital. Related to technology, we recommended that the Park Service develop and implement guidance and standards for leveraging security technology, including how to assess the costs and benefits of countermeasure alternatives while taking into account risk management results. The Park Service took several actions to implement this recommendation, including (1) the provision of formalized consultation to national icon and park staff on technology matters by its Intelligence and Security Manager, (2) collaboration with external organizations to build a repository of information on existing and emerging technologies and standards, (3) establishment of a liaison with the Transportation Security Laboratories to identify screening technologies used by the Transportation Security Administration which will in turn inform Park Service procurement decisions, and (4) with regard to cost, research and analysis on the benefits of leasing security equipment versus purchasing to maintain cutting edge technology. Collectively, these actions meet the intent of our recommendation to improve Park Service security managers' capabilities, regarding technology, through better guidance and direction.

    Recommendation: In order to better oversee and more efficiently manage the protection of the vast and diverse inventory of the national icons and parks, the secretary should instruct the Director of the National Park Service, in consulation with OLES, to develop and implement guidance and standards for leveraging security technology, including how to assess the costs and benefits of countermeasure alternatives while taking into account risk management results.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2009, we reported that the National Park Service faced several challenges in protecting national icons and parks from the threat of terrorism. These challenges related to managing risk, leveraging technology, communicating internally, measuring performance, and managing human capital. Related to risk management, we recommended that Park Service develop and implement a more comprehensive, routine risk management approach for security that encompasses the Park's Service's vast inventory of icons and parks, including developing guidance, standards, and procedures for conducting risk assessments at the icon and park level and for using the results to inform resource allocation decisions at the national, regional, icon, and park levels. The Park Service took several actions to implement this recommendation. These include (1) comprehensive assessments of several national icons, (2) improvements to the U.S. Park Police's approach to allocating resources through reorganization and the creation of a Homeland Security Division, and (3) an effort to designate security level classifications for the Park Service's 24,000 facilities to improve risk management decision making. Furthermore, according to the Park Service, cooperative efforts between the departments of Interior and Homeland Security have highlighted risk mitigation goals, objectives, and priorities for national icons and parks, and have significantly contributed to the goal of developing a more comprehensive risk management approach for security at the Park Service. Overall, these actions better equip the Park Service to use risk management to protect national icons and parks, as well as the people who visit them.

    Recommendation: In order to better oversee and more efficiently manage the protection of the vast and diverse inventory of the national icons and parks, the secretary should instruct the Director of the National Park Service, in consulation with Office of Law Enforcement and Security (OLES), to develop and implement a more comprehensive, routine risk management approach for security that encompasses the Park Service's vast inventory of icons and parks, including developing guidance, standards, and procedures for conducting risk assessments at the icon and park level and for using the results to inform resource allocation decisions at the national, regional, icon, and park levels.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2009, we reported that the National Park Service faced several challenges in protecting national icons and parks from the threat of terrorism. These challenges related to managing risk, leveraging technology, communicating internally, measuring performance, and managing human capital. With regard to human capital management, we recommended that the Park Service develop and implement a security training program and related curriculum to provide staff with the knowledge; skills, and awareness needed to improve Park Service security practices. The Park Service took several actions to implement this recommendation, including (1) an annual security and intelligence workshop in conjunction with the department-level Office of Law Enforcement and Security (OLES), (2) provision of basic and advanced training on security practices to key staff, (3) annual refresher training for law enforcement staff, (4) attendance and completion of Federal Law Enforcement Training Center courses on basic physical security and physical infrastructure protection, and (5) collaboration with OLES to identify and develop additional formal and contemporary security training. These actions reflect a strategy, as outlined in our recommendation, which will better equip the Park Service to provide staff with the necessary knowledge and skills to protect national icons and parks.

    Recommendation: In order to better oversee and more efficiently manage the protection of the vast and diverse inventory of the national icons and parks, the secretary should instruct the Director of the National Park Service, in consulation with OLES, to develop and implement a servicewide security training program and related curriculum to provide staff with the knowledge, skills, and awareness needed to improve Park Service security practices.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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