Watchdog warns government must do more to protect employees from threats on public lands

Watchdog warns government must do more to protect employees from threats on public lands
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A government watchdog is warning the Trump administration that it must beef up protections of its federal employees overseeing public lands due to numerous instances of threats and assault.

According to a report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Monday, federal employees within the Interior Department’s three public lands agencies experienced at least 360 instances of threats and assaults between fiscal 2013 and 2017.

Additionally, the FBI initiated nearly 100 investigations of domestic terrorism stemming from threats against those agencies during the time period. The report found that those investigations largely centered on individuals or groups motivated by anti-government ideologies.

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The report showed that incidents against employees ranged from telephoned threats to attempted murder. For example, one listed threat included an individual who attempted to murder a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) law enforcement officer with a firearm, while another incident involved an employee who was stabbed outside a federal building. Other threats include ones posted on YouTube and Facebook, the report found.

The GAO warned that the calculation of threats and assaults on federal land officials was likely much higher, due to the likelihood many instances were not reported or that they were reported to state or local law enforcement but not shared with agency law enforcement officers.

The watchdog recommended that the federal government must do more to protect its employees, but found that agencies largely blamed lacking resources for an inability to further assess security needs.

“Officials at the four agencies said that either they do not have the resources, expertise, or training to conduct assessments agency-wide,” the report read. “FWS [Fish and Wildlife Service] has a plan to complete its assessments, but BLM, the Forest Service, and the Park Service do not.”

The report added: “Such a plan could help these agencies address the factors that have affected their ability to complete assessments.”

The report made six recommendations for facility security assessments and actions necessary for compliance with facility security assessment methodologies.

The report came after the GAO was asked to review how agencies that managed federal land protected their employees and secured facilities. In 2014, a separate government report predicted that the rate of violent domestic extremist incidents on public lands would increase. The most recent high-profile instance was the 2016 occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by a militia group organized by Ammon and Ryan Bundy. The Bundy brothers were later acquitted of federal conspiracy and weapons charges.

Federal agencies manage nearly 700 million acres of federal lands.