Washington DC Feb 13 2020 The company responsible for protecting District government property is being accused in a whistleblower lawsuit of failing to detect guns and bombs during tests, employing guards with expired licenses and spending months guarding an empty building even after the agency relocated.
The lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court by a former high-ranking city official raises a host of concerns about the security of 40 million square feet of city government space and says top government leaders ignored repeated warnings about the contractor, Security Assurance Management.
Conan Bruce alleges that he was fired in November from his job as associate director of security for the D.C. Department of General Services after raising concerns about the $35 million annual contracts and saying that he would share those concerns at a D.C. Council hearing.
The District employs about 100 officers for building security in its Protective Services Division and relies on 600 more contracted guards. Officers are posted at most D.C. government buildings frequented by the public, including the Franklin D. Reeves Municipal Center and city hall, known as the John A. Wilson Building.
In a statement, the General Services agency said that it was satisfied with the performance of Security Assurance Management and that the contractor took steps to address problems, including training its personnel in the use of hand wands to detect metal objects and increasing its monitoring of guards.
“The focus of the DGS Protective Services Division has been and will continue to be the safety and security of all District residents, employees and visitors to District-owned properties,” DGS Director Keith Anderson said in a statement.
Security Assurance Management, which holds a separate contract with D.C. Public Schools, said in a statement that many of Bruce’s claims were taken out of context. The statement accused Bruce of trying to “unfairly impugn SAM in order to advance his claim against the District” and said “SAM was awarded and maintained its contracts in a wholly appropriate manner and has and continues to provide quality service.”
Bruce said in an interview that he saw problems with security at D.C. buildings soon after he assumed leadership of the Protective Services Division in 2018, after a long career in law enforcement and the military, including at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The agency had been under scrutiny before for tensions with D.C. police. A September 2018 audit found inconsistent training and poor performance that increased the risk for crime near D.C. government properties.
D.C. government officials commonly complained that contract security guards were unprofessional or incompetent, Bruce said. An official at the St. Elizabeths public psychiatric hospital said a guard failed to stop a patient from escaping, according to emails Bruce provided to the council.
He was skeptical of the city’s heavy reliance on contractors who are not directly supervised by D.C. government, noting that airports cut back on the use of contractors after 9/11.
Bruce said he set out to test the company’s ability to safeguard the District government with compliance tests across different buildings.
The results, he said, were shocking. Explosives and guns made it into residential facilities for troubled youths and the Wilson building, where the mayor and council members have offices, according to records of compliance tests he provided to the council. Other guards were asleep on the job or missing from their posts.
“They failed miserably every time,” Bruce said. “It’s going to happen: You can take a knife through TSA, and they don’t catch it. That’s a bad thing, but even worse than this, we found licensing issues with an officer on post with no license. You have to have a license on you, or you have no authority to arrest someone.”
The security company acknowledged lapses during compliance checks but said it has since improved. “SAM accelerated its training schedule, redoubled its management efforts and explored personnel actions,” the company said. “In fact, on several occasions SAM invited Mr. Bruce to meet to attend our training sessions, but Mr. Bruce either declined or ignored the request.”
Anderson, the DGS director said “any breaches have been rectified,” and noted that the contractor now conducts its own tests to ensure that security is effective.
But Bruce said the problems with Security Assurance Management kept piling up during his tenure. The company guarded a vacant, locked building for months after the city agency relocated, he said, while contract guards received far less training than District government guards and costs were rising.
Bruce said he found a sympathetic ear in City Administrator Rashad M. Young, who he said told him the guards posted at the Wilson Building were unprofessional. Bruce said Young instructed officials in a summer 2019 call to rebid the contract.
A spokeswoman for Young declined to comment because of the litigation.
But Bruce said his concerns about Security Assurance Management were met with resistance from his superiors at the General Services Department, who he said asked him to extend the contract with no competitive bidding.
The D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development also raised concerns about cutting off a company certified in a program to give local firms a leg up for city contracts, records show.
The lawsuit alleges no motivation for why District government officials wanted to preserve the contract. But Bruce’s attorneys, J. Michael Hannon and Davis Rajtik, noted that a Security Assurance Management consultant — Jerry Lanum — is also a former contracting chief at the DGS.
Lanum did not return a phone message requesting comment.
The DGS was also the subject of a 2016 whistleblower lawsuit involving contracts. The agency’s former chief procurement officer sued the city, alleging that he was fired after refusing to reconsider the denial of two multimillion-dollar contracts to Fort Myer Construction, a major donor to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). Administration officials denied improper conduct.
The D.C. Council held a hearing on the Protective Services Division in November in response to complaints from officers and broader turmoil at the agency.
Bruce said he told his superiors he planned to share his concerns about the security contractor, but he was fired before he could testify. The DGS declined to comment on his termination because of the pending litigation.
At the hearing, Protective Services Division staff complained about Bruce’s leadership and suggested he was trying to steer work to companies where he had connections. Bruce, who attended the hearing but did not speak, says those allegations were unfounded. Bruce laid out his concerns about the agency and contractor in a lengthy written statement provided to the council.
Council member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), who chairs the committee with oversight of the DGS, said he referred all allegations to the Office of the Inspector General because of the complexity of the situation.
“There’s clearly dysfunction,” White said. “It is impossible to figure out all of these cross allegations and who is telling the truth and who is not telling the truth.”