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Physical Security: The Office of Protection Services Needs to Strengthen Training, Medical and Physical, and Equipment Requirements for Armed Security Guards and Improve Oversight of Unarmed Contract Guards (OIG-A-18-08, September 18, 2018)

What OIG Did

This audit examined the training, medical and physical, and equipment standards for the Smithsonian’s armed security guard force and compared those standards with best practices in minimum standards established by the federal government’s ISC, of which the Smithsonian is an associate member.

OIG also examined how OPS ensures that unarmed contract guards at museums in Washington, D.C. meet qualification and training requirements specified in the Smithsonian’s contract.


OPS has determined that the security level for Smithsonian museums is very high risk based on the ISC’s Risk Management Process. In March 2018, OPS employed about 530 security guards, the majority of whom are armed and stationed in Washington, D.C. Their duties include, among other things, supervising visitor screening and responding to incidents.

OPS also has a contract that provides unarmed guards to monitor exhibition galleries. Beginning in 2016, OPS used the contract guards to conduct visitor screening at the five busiest museums on the National Mall. As of March 2018, more than 360 unarmed contract security guards worked at museums in Washington, D.C.

What OIG Found

The Smithsonian Institution’s (Smithsonian) Office of Protection Services (OPS) requires new security guards to attend basic training classes before they can become armed guards. However, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that between 2014 and 2016, 88 of 119 new security guards (74 percent) were allowed to graduate without completing all basic training instruction because OPS did not have a policy or procedures to ensure that guards attended all basic training. Specifically, individual guards missed between 1 and 6 days of instruction. The OPS Director has stated that all guards must qualify with their firearm before they can graduate. In addition, OIG found that almost all security guards received required refresher training (annual firearms qualification and first aid every 2 years).

OIG also compared the basic training provided by OPS with a set of best practices in minimum standards developed by the Interagency Security Committee (ISC) for armed security guards. Although the Smithsonian is not required to meet these standards, they are recognized as best practices governing armed guards working at buildings and facilities in the U.S. that federal employees occupy for nonmilitary activities. OIG found that OPS basic training met or partially met most ISC standards. However, the ISC recommends that armed guards qualify on firearms twice a year, while OPS only requires firearms qualification once a year.

Furthermore, OIG found that the ISC has more detailed and specific medical and physical standards than OPS in such areas as vision, hearing, cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system, and general health. The ISC also recommends a medical examination and physician clearance for armed security guards, but OPS did not have independent verification by a physician that its minimum medical and physical requirements had been met. OPS is working to establish improved medical and physical standards, but it has not established a target completion date or interim milestones for implementation of these new medical and physical standards.

In addition to its armed security guard force, OPS uses unarmed contract guards. The Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative (COTR), an OPS employee, is responsible for ensuring that the contract requirements for licensing and training of unarmed contract security guards are met. OIG found that the COTR did not verify whether the contract security guards met licensing and training requirements. The COTR instead relied on the contractor to ensure that the contract security guards met the requirements.

What OIG Recommended

OIG made seven recommendations to strengthen the security guard training, medical and physical, and equipment standards, as well as contract guard oversight. Management agreed with all seven recommendations.

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