Sloppy federal oversight of contractors let dozens of unscreened workers have access to a federal building renovation project in Rochester, New York, where a planned Islamic State attack was recently thwarted by the FBI.
“Contractors allowed to enter the building and project site without having received a favorable suitability determination could pose a security risk to building tenants and visitors,” according to the General Services Administration (GSA) Inspector General in a Thursday report. Allowing unscreened individuals on the site “is considered a serious breach of contract,” the IG said.
The renovation project is adding a new courtroom, judges chambers and jury suite to the Kenneth B. Keating Federal Building, which houses offices for the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Naturalization Service and a U.S. Postal Service facility.
The project also involves creating new basement connections among existing rooms within the building. The construction’s projected completion date is May 2016.
The IG reported that between Nov. 2, 2014 and Feb. 1, 2015, “16 of 24 contractor employees were onsite without security clearances.” Three more unscreened employees were found on the site between Feb. 8, 2015 and May 24, 2015.
Emanuel Lutchman was arrested by the FBI Dec. 15, 2015 on charges of aiding ISIS by planning a New Year’s Eve terrorist attack on a Rochester restaurant. He aimed to kill patrons and workers with a machete and other lethal weapons. Lutchman had been in contact with an ISIS representative in Syria and an undercover FBI agent in New York concerning his plans.
Prior to the planned but thwarted attack, Lutchman purchased knives, ski masks, a machete, duct tape and other paraphenalia at a local WalMart, according to court documents.
He identified himself as a “brother” of ISIS in correspondence with the Syrian contact and “expressed his hatred for everything in America and his intention to make hijra and leave America, which he referred to as ‘the land of the Kuffar.'” Hijra is Arabic for “journey,” while the word “Kuffar” is a derogatory Arabic term for non-Muslims.
Building security is a top priority of GSA, which is the federal government’s housekeeping agency, building and leasing thousands of facilities around the country. Background checks on contractor employees working on federal projects became a major part of GSA’s national security responsibilities in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
“Without receiving a favorable suitability determination, the government is unaware if a contractor poses a security risk to the building and its tenants and guests,” the IG said. “Contractor employees for this project have the same access to the building as the general public, but unlike the general public, they also have access to internal structural components of the building.”The IG also expressed concern that federal officials would not take quick actions to remedy the problem because they don’t want to delay the project’s completion.
“Removing un-cleared contractors from the project site would likely delay progress and project completion. Consequently, since the [government’s contracting officer’s representative] is also the project manager, this represents a conflict of interest and an internal control weakness regarding compliance with requirements due to the lack of segregation of duties,” the IG said.
A spokesman for GSA could not be reached by The Daily Caller News Foundation for comment.
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