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Army hired criminals as security guards, report says

TIM MCGLONE, The Virginian-Pilot | April 7 2006

The U.S. Army and private contractors employed convicted criminals as security guards across the country despite repeated warnings in the past three years of the "risky situations" that could present, according to a new federal report.

Fort Eustis and Fort Story were found to have some training documentation deficiencies but have not employed criminals as guards, according to the Army and Alutiiq, the private company that manages the security guards at the two bases.

The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, said this is the third time in three years that it has warned the Army that the lack of proper background checks could jeopardize security at some of the largest and most important installations, including Fort Bragg and West Point.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Army began using outside security guards to man the front gates at 57 U.S. installations because of the number of forces sent overseas. Alutiiq received the contract for security guard services at Fort Eustis, Fort Monroe and Fort Story.

The GAO report says that at one facility, which was unidentified other than it was not in Hampton Roads, 61 security guards with criminal records had been hired, including two dozen with felonies and one with an outstanding warrant.

"The Army's procedure for screening prospective contract guards is inadequate and puts the Army at risk of having ineligible guards protecting installation gates," the GAO report says.

The report does not say that security breaches occurred as a result, and the Army added that those with criminal records were removed. The Army also said it has implemented all seven recommendations by the GAO, including speedier and more in-depth background checks.

GAO auditors visited 14 Army facilities, including Fort Eustis in Newport News and Fort Story in Virginia Beach. The auditors inspected a sample of personnel files and interviewed officials from May to February. The report was issued late Tuesday.

Natalie Granger, chief of media relations for Fort Eustis, issued a statement Wednesday that the two Army facilities visited here received clean bills of health.

"There were no issues identified at the local level by the GAO review," she said in an e-mail. "The contract guard operations at Fort Eustis and Fort Story are functioning well and are an integral part of our security posture."

Officials with Alutiiq, which, along with subcontractor Wackenhut, manages security guards at 20 Army facilities, said Wednesday their company was not the one that employed criminals.

"I can guarantee it was not Alutiiq," Bruce Swagler, vice president for guard services, said from his Chesapeake office, which runs Alutiiq's East Coast operations.

The only criticism Alutiiq received from the GAO was that three security guards' files failed to contain copies of training certificates, Swagler and other Alutiiq officials said during a conference call Wednesday. That was immediately rectified, they said.

The GAO also criticized the Army for giving no-bid contracts worth nearly $500 million to two Alaska Native corporations, including Alutiiq, instead of opening the bid process. The Army said it is re-bidding all of those contracts.


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