Jeffrey Bratko is vice president for Professional Unit Labor Relations at AFGE Local 704, which represents bargaining unit employees at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5 office in Chicago. He was working at the EPA’s Chicago headquarters building on Sept. 11, 2001, and remembers the fear that many employees felt that day. Bratko says many of those fears remain – despite the heightened security measures that were put in place in federal offices following the attacks.
Before 9/11 we had some security in our buildings but, in regards to visible security, it was relatively minimal in a lot of offices. After 9/11, what was visible was a lot more security aimed at employees and visitors, including the general public, and that is a troubling development. No doubt there is a lot of behind the scenes focus on outside threats, but what we see that is most visible is the way employees and the public we serve are now treated as potential threats. For a long time after 9/11, we all had to enter our federal building by going through metal detectors. Now only outside parties, such as the public, must enter through the metal detectors (and employees who forget their identification cards) but all employees must show a government ID to a guard in order to enter the office space. Now that we are used to the procedure, it does not seem as overwhelming. But it is still disconcerting to come to work every day and see the metal detectors in our lobby and note all the visitors subjected to such screening when it has little real benefit in relation to preventing the type of attack that took place on 9/11.
I have to wonder how members of the public and regulated community feel about the federal government and federal employees when they are treated that way in a building owned by the public and where public business takes place. Meanwhile, I can enter most of the biggest banks, stores, and private buildings without being sent through a metal detector. A lot of money, effort and time went into security procedures that screen employees and visitors entering our federal building, but I have to wonder whether any of that is really productive in preventing the types of attacks that took place on 9/11 or in Oklahoma City.
However, the most serious impact of 9/11 has been the increase in intrusive background checks on employees, with little transparency and little accountability. Employees at EPA have been subjected to at least one, and sometimes multiple, background checks that seem to be of little real value. In the name of national security, federal employees are losing more and more of their privacy when the focus should be on the threats from outside government rather than viewing government employees as a potential threat. It seems like the attacks on 9/11 were used to justify a lot of security measures that really have little to no relationship to preventing terrorist attacks.
The security measures in our building and the intrusive background checks aimed at employees make me feel that a lot of effort is being expended in the wrong areas, while terrorists could still stage a suicide attack against our federal offices. Incredibly expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also do not make me feel any more secure than I was before 9/11.