The lawyer who represents the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Police Labor Committee is concerned the federal facility is replacing sworn personnel with contract security guards.
Attorney Brian Bregman of the Laurel-based Bascietto & Bregman LLC said the security guards have gradually been given more and more responsibility over time such as main gate and other entry and access point duties.
Bregman stated officers are also not being replaced if they move to a different position, retire or leave their jobs. As of mid-November, 12 full time police officers (eight of whom are union members) were currently a part of the 24-hour staff. Bregman said four years ago that number was 20, and seven years ago there were 33.
The idea of bringing in security guards began around five years ago. Bregman was told the move was supplemental, which he said, in moderation, made sense. But by not hiring new officers over the years, that decision has reached critical mass. “They are obviously trying to use the security guards to completely squeeze out the police department and that is what we believe is going on,” he said.
A NIST spokesperson referred all inquiries to the United States Department of Commerce (DOC) Office of Security (OSY), which manages both the federal police officers and holds the contract for security guards at the Gaithersburg and Boulder, Colo., sites.
A DOC spokesperson said in an emailed statement that management of the police force and contract guards shifted from NIST to DOC in late 2015 to ensure that the force was managed by OSY through a delegation of authority from the U.S. Federal Protective Service, the Department of Homeland Security agency with the responsibility for protecting federal buildings. “Our only goal is providing high quality site security to protect the employees, contractors and visitors on NIST’s campuses,” according to the statement.
Bregman said there is a huge difference between federal police officers and contract security guards. Officers must go through extensive background checks, complete courses at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) and are held to a higher ethical standard. Bregman said security guards do not have to go through such vigorous training or adhere to the same standards.
Grievances have been filed over the past several months to internally protest the expansion of security personnel. Bregman also met with a top NIST security manager in August and asked them to hire more police officers. He called the meeting unproductive. “We wanted concrete, and they just wanted to talk theory,” he said.
In October, the Government Accountability Office announced in a report that their covert operatives were able to gain unauthorized entry and access to both NIST campuses multiple times. Because the report involved security, details of how the operatives entered were not released. Bregman said he believes NIST police officers were not behind the security breaches.
The report comes more than two years after a NIST police officer tried to make meth in a partially vacant laboratory, and an explosion occurred damaging a portion of the facility. The officer claimed the experiment was part of a training exercise, but he later pled guilty and was sentenced to 41 months in jail.
Bregman said the union is trying to appeal to employees on campus to voice their opinion on security. “Whenever we talk with employees on campus, they want the police department there,” he said. “They don’t want security officers … to be the primary response mechanism when there is an emergency. … We want more people to do the job. We don’t want to be a dwindling artifact of the past because that’s not what the (public and employees) want.”