GAO Report Calls For Better Mall Security

By Gordon Binder

National Mall – Actions Needed to Better Manage Physical Security RisksThere is growing concern about ensuring public access while safeguarding visitors and staff on the National Mall, this is according to the General Accounting Office’s July 2017 report National Mall – Actions Needed to Better Manage Physical Security Risks (GAO-17-679, July 2017). GAO is the agency Congress relies on to audit, evaluate, and investigate program performance and accountability. The focus of the report is on the U.S. Park Police, which patrols the vast open spaces; the National Gallery of Art; and the Smithsonian Institution. The GAO says the challenge is formidable: how to best protect more than 24 million visitors each year as well as the growing number of Mall museums and monuments along with the treasures they show. After 9/11, these entities understandably boosted security on the Mall and have been engaged since in what’s called a Risk Management Process, defining risks, goals, measures, and performance.

Done at the behest of Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson, Ranking Minority Member on the House Committee on Homeland Security, much of the report dives down into the Risk Management Process that each of these 3 entities follow. It assesses current operations and flags various deficiencies and needed improvements.

The report cites the Mall Security Working Group, 20 or so federal and non-federal entities, that gathers and shares information and experiences. That such a Group has been functioning for several years now is testimony to the priority for safeguarding visitors and Mall facilities.

And it prompts a question that the National Mall Coalition has asked for several years: if the Mall Security Working Group is serving such an important, useful, timely mission in bringing these entities together, why, aren’t the principal Mall agencies pursuing comparable, coordinated approaches to the other issues they face – from planning for new facilities, upgrades, and renovations, to managing open spaces, to providing visitor amenities (like outdoor seating and convenient public restrooms), to circulation, and more?

The National Mall Coalition has underscored the need for a new comprehensive plan for the entire Mall, including areas that border what’s considered the traditional Mall, in order to update the McMillan Commission’s 1902 plan, provide a new 3rd Century vision for the Mall, and consider potential sites for a new wave of proposed memorials and museums, of which there is no shortage.

Most Americans, I expect, welcome heightened attention to security on the National Mall. Perhaps, as these agencies come together to bolster security on the Mall, they – and the public – may yet see the potential in greater cooperation and coordination on the full range of issues with which they are continually dealing. Isn’t it time to finally act?

Read the GAO report here.

• Gordon Binder is a Senior Fellow at World Wildlife Fund.




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