Southeast Asia:

Better Human Rights Reviews and Strategic Planning Needed for U.S. Assistance to Foreign Security Forces

GAO-05-793: Published: Jul 29, 2005. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 2005.

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The executive branch has bolstered assistance to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand to contribute to U.S. foreign policy and security goals. To further human rights goals, Congress restricts certain security assistance funds from being provided to any units of foreign security forces when credible evidence exists that units have committed gross violations of human rights. GAO (1) describes the nature and extent of U.S. assistance to foreign security forces in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand, (2) assesses the controls used to achieve compliance with human rights restrictions on U.S. funding to foreign security forces in these countries, and (3) assesses the U.S. government's national security assistance strategy.

The United States allocated about $265.7 million in assistance from fiscal years 2001 to 2004 to equip and train security forces in the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia. U.S. law restricts the provision of funds to units of foreign security forces when the Department of State has credible evidence that the unit has committed gross violations of human rights. Agency guidance extends these restrictions to individuals of foreign security forces and requires posts to establish procedures to vet candidates for U.S. sponsored training for possible violations. However, we found no evidence that U.S. officials vetted an estimated 6,900 foreign security trainees--about 4,000 Indonesian, 1,200 Filipino, and 1,700 Thai police--trained by Justice with State law enforcement assistance between fiscal years 2001 through 2004. These candidates included a total of 32 Indonesian individuals trained over time from a notorious special-forces police unit previously prohibited under State policy from receiving U.S. training funds because of the unit's prior human rights abuses. We found better evidence of vetting in training programs managed by DOD. State issued new guidance in February 2005 intended to improve the human rights vetting process and establish a database of human rights abuse allegations. State has not produced a clear and coherent national security assistance strategy that meets objectives that Congress urged State to address in 2000 legislation. As a result, State and Congress may be deprived of the information needed to make future decisions about these programs. State's 2003 strategy met only two of nine objectives in the law. Among other shortfalls, the strategy did not identify how programs would be combined at the country level to achieve objectives or be coordinated with other U.S. government agencies. Several State and DOD planning documents, while not collectively providing a complete national security assistance strategy, address some of the legislation's objectives.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help provide both State and Congress with the information needed on how U.S. security assistance programs help support U.S. foreign policy and security objectives, the Secretary of State should use existing plans and strategies within State and DOD as the basis for developing an integrated strategic plan for all U.S. government assistance programs that provide training, equipment, or technical assistance to foreign security forces (military and police). This multiyear plan should be periodically reported to Congress in response to the Security Assistance Act of 2000, which urged the Secretary of State to develop a multiyear security assistance plan. In addition, the strategy should describe all related resource allocations used to support program goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In a March 25, 2009, email, State reiterated its position that its completion of an annual performance summary for all U.S. government agencies, including Defense and Justice, would exceed its legislative mandate. Moreover, it stated that the Department does strategic planning and develops strategic planning documents that cover all agency programs that come under the purview of chiefs of mission overseas. For example, State said that its annual performance summary to congress is based on set performance targets for an integrated strategic plan on various topics. Together, these cover almost every U.S. government assistance program that provides training, equipment or technical assistance to foreign security forces, according to State. Also, State said that the performance summary is the culmination of performance plans originating in U.S. missions around the world. However, these performance summaries provide information for State and USAID only; they do not include information for security assistance programs funded and operated by other agencies, such as Defense and Justice. Therefore, these plans, while a useful component of the type of integrated strategic plan for all U.S. government assistance programs that we recommended, do not, by themselves, satisfy the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help provide both State and Congress with the information needed on how U.S. security assistance programs help support U.S. foreign policy and security objectives, the Secretary of State should use existing plans and strategies within State and DOD as the basis for developing an integrated strategic plan for all U.S. government assistance programs that provide training, equipment, or technical assistance to foreign security forces (military and police). This multiyear plan should be periodically reported to Congress in response to the Security Assistance Act of 2000, which urged the Secretary of State to develop a multiyear security assistance plan. In addition, the strategy should identify all federal agency programs providing assistance to foreign security forces, regardless of their funding source.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In a March 25, 2009, email, State reiterated its position that its completion of an annual performance summary for all U.S. government agencies, including Defense and Justice, would exceed its legislative mandate. Moreover, it stated that the Department does strategic planning and develops strategic planning documents that cover all agency programs that come under the purview of chiefs of mission overseas. For example, State said that its annual performance summary to congress is based on set performance targets for an integrated strategic plan on various topics. Together, these cover almost every U.S. government assistance program that provides training, equipment or technical assistance to foreign security forces, according to State. Also, State said that the performance summary is the culmination of performance plans originating in U.S. missions around the world. However, these performance summaries provide information for State and USAID only; they do not include information for security assistance programs funded and operated by other agencies, such as Defense and Justice. Therefore, these plans, while a useful component of the type of integrated strategic plan for all U.S. government assistance programs that we recommended, do not, by themselves, satisfy the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help provide both State and Congress with the information needed on how U.S. security assistance programs help support U.S. foreign policy and security objectives, the Secretary of State should use existing plans and strategies within State and DOD as the basis for developing an integrated strategic plan for all U.S. government assistance programs that provide training, equipment, or technical assistance to foreign security forces (military and police). This multiyear plan should be periodically reported to Congress in response to the Security Assistance Act of 2000, which urged the Secretary of State to develop a multiyear security assistance plan. In addition, the strategy should be coordinated with the Departments of Defense and Justice and any other agencies providing assistance to foreign security forces.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In a March 25, 2009, email, State reiterated its position that its completion of an annual performance summary for all U.S. government agencies, including Defense and Justice, would exceed its legislative mandate. Moreover, it stated that the Department does strategic planning and develops strategic planning documents that cover all agency programs that come under the purview of chiefs of mission overseas. For example, State said that its annual performance summary to congress is based on set performance targets for an integrated strategic plan on various topics. Together, these cover almost every U.S. government assistance program that provides training, equipment or technical assistance to foreign security forces, according to State. Also, State said that the performance summary is the culmination of performance plans originating in U.S. missions around the world. However, these performance summaries provide information for State and USAID only; they do not include information for security assistance programs funded and operated by other agencies, such as Defense and Justice. Therefore, these plans, while a useful component of the type of integrated strategic plan for all U.S. government assistance programs that we recommended, do not, by themselves, satisfy the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help provide assurance that foreign candidates of U.S. security assistance programs comply with existing legislative restrictions and State policies on human rights, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretaries of Defense and Justice should strengthen management controls by issuing new consolidated guidance for vetting foreign security units. As part of these new controls, posts and headquarters units should establish monitoring mechanisms and a central focal point to verify that these procedures are being carried out properly.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State had updated its guidance on human rights vetting of foreign military personnel receiving U.S.-training, which is posted on its intranet web site. The guidance defines the role of points of contact at posts to coordinate human rights vetting and the role of State's regional bureaus and desk officers to verify that vetting has taken place. In addition, a State official stated in an email and interview that the department is developing a worldwide vetting database that will automatically record every training candidate vetting transaction, thereby eliminating the recurring problem of lack of vetting records. The department hopes to have the new system in place worldwide by the end of FY 2009.

    Recommendation: To help provide assurance that foreign candidates of U.S. security assistance programs comply with existing legislative restrictions and State policies on human rights, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretaries of Defense and Justice should strengthen management controls by issuing new consolidated guidance for vetting foreign security units. As part of these new controls, posts and headquarters units should establish written policies and procedures covering all entities involved in the vetting process at posts, including documentation and record retention policies specifying what documentation is needed and where and how long vetting files should be maintained.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The State Department has taken several steps to strengthen its management controls for human rights vetting of foreign security forces (military and police). State has provided us with copies of its 31 USC 720 response to congressional committees and with a copy of its new vetting guidance to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help provide assurance that foreign candidates of U.S. security assistance programs comply with existing legislative restrictions and State policies on human rights, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretaries of Defense and Justice should strengthen management controls by issuing new consolidated guidance for vetting foreign security units. As part of these new controls, posts and headquarters units should establish the roles and responsibilities of posts and headquarters units for vetting foreign candidates for human rights consideration.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The State Department has taken several steps to strengthen its management controls for human rights vetting of foreign security forces (military and police). State has provided us with copies of its 31 USC 720 response to congressional committees and with a copy of its new vetting guidance to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help provide both State and Congress with the information needed on how U.S. security assistance programs help support U.S. foreign policy and security objectives, the Secretary of State should use existing plans and strategies within State and DOD as the basis for developing an integrated strategic plan for all U.S. government assistance programs that provide training, equipment, or technical assistance to foreign security forces (military and police). This multiyear plan should be periodically reported to Congress in response to the Security Assistance Act of 2000, which urged the Secretary of State to develop a multiyear security assistance plan. In addition, the strategy should incorporate quantitative and qualitative performance measures designed to determine the extent to which country programs contribute to broader U.S. foreign policy and security objectives.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In a March 25, 2009, email, State reiterated its position that its completion of an annual performance summary for all U.S. government agencies, including Defense and Justice, would exceed its legislative mandate. Moreover, it stated that the Department does strategic planning and develops strategic planning documents that cover all agency programs that come under the purview of chiefs of mission overseas. For example, State said that its annual performance summary to congress is based on set performance targets for an integrated strategic plan on various topics. Together, these cover almost every U.S. government assistance program that provides training, equipment or technical assistance to foreign security forces, according to State. Also, State said that the performance summary is the culmination of performance plans originating in U.S. missions around the world. However, these performance summaries provide information for State and USAID only; they do not include information for security assistance programs funded and operated by other agencies, such as Defense and Justice. Therefore, these plans, while a useful component of the type of integrated strategic plan for all U.S. government assistance programs that we recommended, do not, by themselves, satisfy the intent of our recommendation.

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