After the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, the Pentagon permitted military installations to hire contract security so that military personnel could be moved to more critical positions as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq got under way. But in 2006, the U.S. General Accountability Office discovered that many civilian guards had criminal records. These convictions had not been detected because some installations had failed to conduct background checks. Investigators also found that many of the guards had not undergone required training, such as for firearm usage, before starting their positions.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon conducted spot checks at five military installations — including Tooele Army Depot — to determine if the problems had been fixed. Officials determined that many of these problems persist. The bases could not verify whether three of every five civilian security guards had been properly screened or trained. Some bases did not conduct required exercises to detect fake IDs or simulated car bombs. Some bases did not have as many guards on duty as specified under contracts, although security providers had been paid in full.

These are unacceptable deficiencies because they can compromise the safety of military and civilian personnel. They also jeopardize the security of military equipment and resources.

Pentagon investigators also conducted spot checks at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.; Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; and Fort Monmouth, N.J. For its part, Tooele Army Depot officials in a statement to the Deseret News said few of the problems uncovered by inspectors occurred at the Utah facility. Base officials said its contract security officers receive proper physical examinations; background checks; physical fitness testing; on-site training; and weapons qualification before being placed on the job.

We hope each of the installations reviewed by the Pentagon has taken steps to shore up deficiencies. Contract guards are the first line of defense at these military installations. If civilian guards are properly trained and conduct their work as required by contracts, there is a greater likelihood that military personnel and resources operate safely and efficiently.

There have always been great security demands at military institutions. But those requirements are more intense in the post-9/11 world. The Pentagon must be diligent in conducting spot checks and terminate contracts with providers that cannot meet their obligations.