State Department: Diplomatic Security Challenges

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-11-15.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                              United States Government Accountability Office

GAO                           Testimony
                              Before the House Committee on
                              Foreign Affairs

                              STATE DEPARTMENT
For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EST
Thursday, November 15, 2012

                              Diplomatic Security
                              Statement of Michael J. Courts, Acting Director
                              International Affairs and Trade

United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548

                                   Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member Berman, and Members of the

                                   I am pleased to be here to discuss diplomatic security challenges at U.S.
                                   embassies and consulates overseas. The U.S. government maintains
                                   more than 270 diplomatic posts, including embassies, consulates, and
                                   other diplomatic offices, in about 180 countries worldwide. More than
                                   80,000 U.S. government employees work overseas under Chief of
                                   Mission authority, representing more than 30 agencies and government
                                   entities. 1 Since the 1998 embassy attacks in East Africa, U.S. civilian
                                   officials posted overseas have faced increasing threats to their safety and
                                   security, and facilities in high threat locations have faced numerous
                                   attacks. In September, the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya,
                                   was breached and sustained mortar fire. Tragically, the U.S. Ambassador
                                   and three other U.S. officials were killed.

                                   My testimony today is primarily based on a GAO report that was issued in
                                   November 2009, examining the Department of State’s (State) Bureau of
                                   Diplomatic Security (Diplomatic Security). 2 The Bureau’s mission, to
                                   ensure a safe environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, involves
                                   activities such as the protection of people, information, and property
                                   overseas, and dignitary protection and passport and visa fraud
                                   investigations domestically. My testimony also includes work we have
                                   subsequently performed to follow up on the implementation of the report’s
                                   recommendations. I will discuss (1) the growth of Diplomatic Security’s
                                   missions and resources, (2) the challenges Diplomatic Security faces in
                                   conducting its work, and (3) the status of GAO’s recommendation
                                   concerning Diplomatic Security.

                                   Detailed information on our scope and methodology can be found in the
                                   reports cited in appendix I. We conducted the underlying performance
                                   audits in accordance with generally accepted government auditing
                                   standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audits

                                    Agencies represented overseas include the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce,
                                   Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, State, and Treasury, and the U.S. Agency for
                                   International Development.
                                    GAO, State Department: Diplomatic Security’s Recent Growth Warrants Strategic
                                   Review, GAO-10-156 (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 12, 2009).

                                   Page 1                                                 GAO-13-191T Diplomatic Security
                        to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis
                        for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We
                        believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our
                        findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

                        Diplomatic Security’s mission and the resources needed to carry it out
Diplomatic Security’s   have grown substantially since 1998. Following the 1998 embassy
Mission and             bombings in Africa, Diplomatic Security determined that many U.S.
                        diplomatic facilities did not meet its security standards and were
Resources Have          vulnerable to terrorist attack. Diplomatic Security added many of the
Grown Considerably      physical security measures currently in place at most U.S. missions
                        worldwide, such as additional barriers, alarms, public address systems,
Since 1998              and enhanced access procedures. From 1998 to 2009, there were 39
                        attacks aimed at U.S. Embassies, Consulates, or Chief of Mission
                        personnel (not including regular attacks against the U.S. Embassy in
                        Baghdad since 2004). The nature of some of these attacks led Diplomatic
                        Security to further adapt its security measures. Moreover, the attacks of
                        September 11, 2001, underscored the importance of upgrading
                        Diplomatic Security’s domestic security programs and enhancing its
                        investigative capacity. Furthermore, following the onset of U.S. operations
                        in Iraq in 2003, Diplomatic Security has had to provide security in the Iraq
                        and other hostile environments such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

                        Diplomatic Security funding and personnel increased considerably in
                        conjunction with its expanding mission. Diplomatic Security reports that its
                        budget increased from about $200 million in 1998 to $1.8 billion in 2008.
                        In addition, the size of Diplomatic Security’s workforce doubled between
                        1998 and 2009. For example, the number of security specialists (special
                        agents, engineers, technicians, and couriers) increased from under 1,000
                        in 1998 to over 2,000 in 2009, (see fig. 1). At the same time, Diplomatic
                        Security has increased its use of contractors to support its security
                        operations worldwide, specifically through increases in the Diplomatic
                        Security guard force (with over 35,000 guards in Fiscal Year 2011) and
                        the use of contractors to provide protective details for American diplomats
                        in high-threat environments.

                        Page 2                                          GAO-13-191T Diplomatic Security
                       Figure 1: Growth of Security Specialist Workforce: 1998-2009

                       Diplomatic Security faces several policy and operational challenges. First,
Dangerous              State is maintaining missions in increasingly dangerous locations,
Environments,          necessitating the use of more security resources and making it more
                       difficult to provide security in these locations. Second, although
Staffing Shortages,    Diplomatic Security has grown considerably in staff, staffing shortages, as
Other Operational      well as other operational challenges, further tax Diplomatic Security’s
                       ability to implement its mission. Finally, State has expanded Diplomatic
Limitations, and       Security without the benefit of adequate strategic planning.
Reactive Planning
Challenge Diplomatic

                       Page 3                                              GAO-13-191T Diplomatic Security
Maintaining Missions in      Keeping staff secure, yet productive, in Iraq has been one of Diplomatic
Dangerous Environments       Security’s greatest challenges in recent years. The U.S. mission in
Significantly Affects        Baghdad is the largest in the world. As of May 2012, the United States
                             was planning for a presence of 11,500 personnel at 11 diplomatic sites.
Diplomatic Security’s Work   Between fiscal years 2004 and 2008, Diplomatic Security operations in
                             Iraq required approximately 36 percent of Diplomatic Security’s entire
                             budget. To support security operations in Iraq, Diplomatic Security had to
                             draw staff and resources away from other programs. In 2009, we reported
                             that Diplomatic Security’s workload—and thus its resource
                             requirements—would likely increase as the U.S. military transitioned out
                             of Iraq. 3

                             U.S. policymakers’ focus on Afghanistan poses another significant
                             challenge for Diplomatic Security. The security situation in Afghanistan
                             deteriorated between 2005 and 2010 and has remained relatively
                             dangerous since.

                             In addition to operating in the Iraq and Afghanistan, State is maintaining
                             missions in an increasing number of other dangerous posts—such as
                             Peshawar, Pakistan, and Sana’a, Yemen—some of which State would
                             have previously evacuated. The policy to maintain a presence in
                             dangerous areas began with State’s 2006 transformational diplomacy
                             initiative, which required a shift of human resources to increasingly critical
                             regions such as Africa, East Asia, and the Middle East. According to
                             Diplomatic Security officials, maintaining missions in these dangerous
                             environments requires more resources.

Some Diplomatic Security     Despite Diplomatic Security’s staff growth since 1998, some offices were
Offices Operated with        operating with severe staffing shortages. In 2008, approximately one-third
Severe Staff Shortages       of Diplomatic Security’s domestic suboffices operated with a vacancy rate
                             of 25 percent or higher. Several offices reported that this shortage of staff
                             affected their ability to conduct their work, leading to backlogged cases
                             and training gaps.

                              GAO, Iraq: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight, GAO-09-294SP (Washington, D.C.:
                             Mar. 24, 2009). Further in June 2012, we reported that Iraq continued to require
                             extraordinary funding to provide additional security capabilities. See GAO, Mission Iraq:
                             State and DOD Face Challenges in Finalizing Support and Security Capabilities,
                             GAO-12-856T (Washington, D.C.: Jun. 28, 2012).

                             Page 4                                                   GAO-13-191T Diplomatic Security
                             State officials attributed these shortages to three factors:

                             •   Staffing the Iraq mission: In order to provide enough Diplomatic
                                 Security special agents in Iraq, we reported that Diplomatic Security
                                 had to move agents from other programs, and those moves affected
                                 the agency’s ability to perform other missions, including providing
                                 security for visiting dignitaries and visa, passport, and identity fraud

                             •   Protection details: Diplomatic Security draws agents from field offices,
                                 headquarters, and overseas posts to participate in protective details
                                 and special events, such as the Olympics. Diplomatic Security’s role
                                 in providing protection at such major events has grown and will
                                 require more staff.

                             •   Normal rotations: Staff take home leave between overseas postings
                                 and are sometimes required to take training before starting their next
                                 assignment. This rotation process regularly creates periodic staffing
                                 gaps, which affects Diplomatic Security’s ability to meet its increased
                                 security demands.

Other Operational            Diplomatic Security faced a number of other operational challenges that
Challenges Impeded           impeded it from fully implementing its mission and activities, including:
Diplomatic Security’s
                             •   Inadequate buildings: State is in the process of updating and building
Ability to Fully Implement       many new facilities. However, we have previously identified many
Its Mission and Activities       posts that did not meet all security standards delineated by the
                                 Overseas Security Policy Board and the Secure Embassy
                                 Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999.

                             •   Foreign language deficiencies: In 2009, we found that 53 percent of
                                 Regional Security Officers do not speak and read foreign languages
                                 at the level required by their positions, and we concluded that these
                                 language shortfalls could be negatively affecting several aspects of
                                 U.S. diplomacy, including security operations. 4

                              For GAO’s review of language training at State, see GAO, Department of State:
                             Comprehensive Plan Needed to Address Persistent Foreign Language Shortfalls,
                             GAO-09-955 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 17, 2009).

                             Page 5                                                 GAO-13-191T Diplomatic Security
                          •   Experience gaps: Thirty-four percent of Diplomatic Security’s positions
                              (not including those in Baghdad) were filled with officers below the
                              position’s grade. For example, several Assistant Regional Security
                              Officers with whom we met were in their first overseas positions and
                              stated that they did not feel adequately prepared for their job,
                              particularly their responsibility to manage large security contracts.

                          •   Host country laws: At times, host country laws prohibit Diplomatic
                              Security from taking all the security precautions it would like outside
                              an embassy. For example, Diplomatic Security officials said that they
                              prefer to arm their local guard forces and their special agents;
                              however, several countries prohibit this. In cases of attack, this
                              prohibition limits Diplomatic Security’s ability to protect an embassy or

                          •   Balancing security with the diplomatic mission: Diplomatic Security’s
                              desire to provide the best security possible for State’s diplomatic
                              corps has, at times, been in tension with State’s diplomatic mission.
                              For example, Diplomatic Security has established strict policies
                              concerning access to U.S. facilities that usually include both personal
                              and vehicle screening. Some public affairs officials—whose job it is to
                              foster relations with host country nationals—have expressed concerns
                              that these security measures discourage visitors from attending U.S.
                              Embassy events or exhibits. In addition, the new embassies and
                              consulates, with their high walls, deep setbacks, and strict screening
                              procedures, have evoked the nickname “Fortress America.”

Although Some Planning    We found in 2009 that neither State’s departmental strategic plan nor
Initiatives Have Been     Diplomatic Security’s bureau strategic plan specifically addresses its
Undertaken, Diplomatic    resource needs or its management challenges. Diplomatic Security’s
                          substantial growth since 1998 has been reactive and has not benefited
Security’s Growth Has     from adequate strategic guidance. For example, State’s strategic plan
Been More Reactive than   does not specifically address Diplomatic Security’s resource needs or
Strategic                 management challenges. While State’s strategic plan for 2007-2012 has
                          a section identifying security priorities and goals, we found it did not
                          identify the resources needed to meet these goals or address all of the
                          management challenges we identified in this report. Diplomatic Security
                          had undertaken some planning efforts at the bureau and office level, but
                          we found that these efforts also had limitations.

                          Several senior Diplomatic Security officials noted that Diplomatic Security
                          was reactive in nature, stating a number of reasons for its lack of long-

                          Page 6                                           GAO-13-191T Diplomatic Security
                     term strategic planning. For example, Diplomatic Security provides a
                     support function and must react to the needs of State; therefore, it cannot
                     plan its own resources until State determines overall policy direction.
                     Also, while State has a 5-year workforce plan that addresses all bureaus,
                     officials stated that Diplomatic Security did not use this plan to determine
                     its staffing needs.

                     In our 2009 report, we recommended that the Secretary of State—as
Status of GAO’s      either part of a State management initiative, the Quadrennial Diplomatic
Recommendation for   and Development Review (QDDR) or as a separate initiative—conduct a
                     strategic review of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to ensure that its
Executive Action     mission and activities address State’s priority needs. We stated that this
                     review should also address key human capital and operational challenges
                     faced by Diplomatic Security. At the time, State agreed with our
                     recommendation and noted that, although it was not planning to perform
                     a strategic review of the full Diplomatic Security mission and capabilities
                     in the QDDR, the Department was committed to ensuring that Diplomatic
                     Security’s mission would benefit from this initiative.

                     We have subsequently learned that State has not yet conducted the
                     strategic review as recommended. Specifically, Diplomatic Security
                     officials told GAO that the QDDR was not used to conduct such a review.
                     However, Diplomatic Security officials did point to several steps they had
                     taken, including the creation of a Strategic Planning Unit and other efforts
                     to enhance performance management. Diplomatic Security officials also
                     noted that they have undertaken a new effort in response to the rapidly
                     changing security environment encountered over the past year by
                     bringing together subject matter experts from across Diplomatic Security
                     to support scenario planning for future security requirements. We
                     appreciate the steps that the Bureau has taken on its own initiative;
                     however we continue to believe that the Department, and not the Bureau,
                     needs to take action in order to strategically assess the competing
                     demands on Diplomatic Security and the resulting mission implications.

                     Madam Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be
                     pleased to respond to any questions you or other Members of the
                     Committee may have at this time.

                     Page 7                                           GAO-13-191T Diplomatic Security
                  For questions regarding this testimony, please contact Michael Courts at
GAO Contact and   (202) 512-8980 or courtsm@gao.gov. Individuals making key
Staff             contributions to this testimony include Anthony Moran, Miriam Carroll
                  Fenton, Thomas Costa, Karen Deans, Jon C. Fremont, Valérie Nowak,
Acknowledgement   Kira Self, and Christina Werth.

                  Page 8                                         GAO-13-191T Diplomatic Security
Related GAO Reports
             Related GAO Reports

             Overseas Rightsizing: State Has Improved the Consistency of Its
             Approach, but Does Not Follow Up on Its Recommendations.
             GAO-12-799. Washington, D.C.: July 25, 2012.

             Department of State: Foreign Service Midlevel Staffing Gaps Persist
             Despite Significant Increases in Hiring. GAO-12-721. Washington, D.C.:
             June 14, 2012.

             Diplomatic Security: Expanded Missions and Inadequate Facilities Pose
             Critical Challenges to Training Effort. GAO-11-780T. Washington, D.C.:
             June 29, 2011.

             Diplomatic Security: Expanded Missions and Inadequate Facilities Pose
             Critical Challenges to Training Efforts. GAO-11-460. Washington, D.C.:
             June 1, 2011.

             New Embassy Compounds: State Faces Challenges in Sizing Facilities
             and Providing for Operations and Maintenance Requirements.
             GAO-10-689. Washington, D.C.: July 20, 2010.

             State Department: Challenges Facing the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
             GAO-10-290T. Washington, D.C.: December 9, 2009.

             State Department: Diplomatic Security’s Recent Growth Warrants
             Strategic Review. GAO-10-156. Washington, D.C.: November 12, 2009.

             Department of State: Additional Steps Needed to Address Continuing
             Staffing and Experience Gaps at Hardship Posts. GAO-09-874.
             Washington, D.C.: September 17, 2009.

             Department of State: Comprehensive Plan Needed to Address Persistent
             Foreign Language Shortfalls. GAO-09-955. Washington, D.C.: September
             17, 2009.

             Combating Terrorism: State Department’s Antiterrorism Program Needs
             Improved Guidance and More Systematic Assessments of Outcomes.
             GAO-08-336. Washington, D.C.: February 29, 2008.

             Diplomatic Security: Upgrades Have Enhanced Security, but Site
             Conditions Prevent Full Adherence to Standards. GAO-08-162.
             Washington, D.C.: January 18, 2008.

             Page 9                                        GAO-13-191T Diplomatic Security
           Related GAO Reports

           State Department: Evacuation Planning and Preparations for Overseas
           Posts Can Be Improved. GAO-08-23. Washington, D.C.: October 19,

           Overseas Security: State Department has Not Fully Implemented Key
           Measures to Protect U.S. Officials from Terrorist Attacks Outside of
           Embassies. GAO-05-642. Washington, D.C.: May 9, 2005.

           Page 10                                       GAO-13-191T Diplomatic Security
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