State Department:

Diplomatic Security's Recent Growth Warrants Strategic Review

GAO-10-156: Published: Nov 12, 2009. Publicly Released: Dec 7, 2009.

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State Department's (State) Bureau of Diplomatic Security (Diplomatic Security) is responsible for the protection of people, information, and property at over 400 foreign missions and domestic locations. Diplomatic Security must be prepared to counter threats such as crime, espionage, visa and passport fraud, technological intrusions, political violence, and terrorism. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to assess (1) how Diplomatic Security's mission has evolved since 1998, (2) how its resources have changed over the last 10 years, and (3) the challenges it faces in conducting its missions. GAO analyzed Diplomatic Security data; reviewed relevant documents; and interviewed officials at several domestic facilities and 18 international missions.

Diplomatic Security's mission, toensure 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. These activities have grown since 1998 in reaction to a number of security incidents. Diplomatic Security funding and personnel have also increased considerably over the last 10 years. In 1998, Diplomatic Security's budget was about $200 million; by fiscal year 2008, it had grown to approximately $1.8 billion, of which over $300 million was for security in Iraq. In addition, the size of Diplomatic Security's direct-hire workforce has doubled since 1998 and will likely continue to expand. Recently, Diplomatic Security's reliance on contractors has grown to fill critical needs in high-threat posts. Diplomatic Security faces several challenges that could affect the bureau's ability to provide security and use its resources efficiently. First, State's policy to maintain missions in increasingly dangerous posts requires a substantial amount of resources. Second, although Diplomatic Security's workforce has grown considerably over the last 10 years, staffing shortages in domestic offices and other operational challenges--such as inadequate facilities, language deficiencies, experience gaps, and balancing security needs with State's diplomatic mission--further tax its ability to implement all of its missions. Finally, Diplomatic Security's tremendous growth has been in reaction to events and does not benefit from adequate strategic guidance. Neither State's departmental strategic plan nor Diplomatic Security's bureau strategic plan specifically addresses the bureau's resource needs or management challenges.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In commenting on the report, State agreed with the recommendation. In a March 2010 letter to Congressional oversight committees, State said that its new planning process, Bureau of Diplomatic Security Planning System, which was being piloted at the time, would include a strategic planning component and tools senior managers can use to monitor and evaluate programs' performance and made effective decisions regarding allocation of resources. It noted that it agreed to the importance of ensuring that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security's strategic planning is adequately considered in the Department's priorities as the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review process develops. However, as of November 2012, State had not yet conducted the strategic review as recommended. Specifically, Diplomatic Security officials told GAO that the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review was not used to conduct such a review. 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.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State--as part of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) or as a separate initiative--should conduct a strategic review of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to ensure that its missions and activities address the department's priority needs. This review should also address key human capital and operational challenges faced by Diplomatic Security, such as (1) operating domestic and international activities with adequate staff; (2) providing security for facilities that do not meet all security standards; (3) staffing foreign missions with officials who have appropriate language skills; (4) operating programs with experienced staff, at the commensurate grade levels; and (5) balancing security needs with State's need to conduct its diplomatic mission.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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