Diplomatic Security:

Expanded Missions and Inadequate Facilities Pose Critical Challenges to Training Efforts

GAO-11-460: Published: Jun 1, 2011. Publicly Released: Jun 29, 2011.

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The Department of State's (State) Bureau of Diplomatic Security (Diplomatic Security) protects people, information, and property at over 400 locations worldwide and has experienced a large growth in its budget and personnel over the last decade. Diplomatic Security trains its workforce and others to address a variety of threats, including crime, espionage, visa and passport fraud, technological intrusions, political violence, and terrorism. To meet its training needs, Diplomatic Security relies primarily on its Diplomatic Security Training Center (DSTC). GAO was asked to examine (1) how Diplomatic Security ensures the quality and appropriateness of its training, (2) the extent to which Diplomatic Security ensures that training requirements are being met, and (3) any challenges that Diplomatic Security faces in carrying out its training mission. GAO examined compliance with accreditation processes; analyzed data and documentation related to the agency's training efforts; and interviewed officials in Washington, D.C., and five overseas posts.

To ensure the quality and appropriateness of its training, Diplomatic Security primarily adheres to Federal Law Enforcement Training Accreditation (FLETA) standards, along with other standards. Diplomatic Security incorporated FLETA standards into its standard operating procedures, using a course design framework tailored for DSTC. To meet standards, DSTC also integrates both formal and informal feedback from evaluations and other sources to improve its courses. However, GAO found DSTC's systems do not have the capability to obtain feedback for some required training, including distributed learning efforts (interactive online course content). Without feedback, DSTC is less able to ensure the effectiveness of these efforts. Diplomatic Security developed career training paths for its personnel that identify the training required for selected job positions at different career levels. It uses various systems to track participation in its training, but DSTC's systems do not have the capability to track whether personnel have completed all required training. DSTC systems also are not designed to track training delivered through distributed learning. Diplomatic Security faces significant challenges to carrying out its training mission. DSTC must train Diplomatic Security personnel to perform new missions in Iraq as they take on many of the protective and security functions previously provided by the U.S. military. DSTC also faces dramatic increases in high-threat training provided to State and non-State personnel, but State does not have an action plan and time frames to manage proposed increases. These expanded training missions constrain DSTC's ability to meet training needs. In addition, many of DSTC's training facilities do not meet its training needs, a situation that hampers efficient and effective operations. To meet some of its needs, in 2007, DSTC developed an Interim Training Facility. In 2009, State allocated funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and other acts to develop a consolidated training facility; State is in the process of identifying a suitable location. GAO recommends that State enhance DSTC's course evaluation and tracking capabilities. GAO also recommends that State develop an action plan and time frames to address proposed increases in high-threat training. State reviewed a draft of this report and agreed with all of the recommendations.

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: The Secretary of State should develop or improve the process to obtain participant evaluations for all of DSTC required training, including distributed learning efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State concurred with our recommendations. On September 19, 2011, State completed deployment of a new Diplomatic Security subdomain within the Foreign Service Institute's (FSI) learning management system that will improve Diplomatic Security's ability to post course documents, transcripts and certifications online and conduct evaluations of its distributed learning. Diplomatic Security also noted that it has begun using FSI's online survey tool to further enhance its ability to obtain participant evaluations of distributed learning. In addition, DSTC is seeking approval from State to use another commercial survey product that would be compatible with State's systems and security firewalls.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should develop or improve the process to track individual DSTC training requirements and completion of DSTC training.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Open

    Comments: State concurred with the recommendation and said it is exploring ways to modify existing State computer systems to enhance its ability to track training.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should develop an action plan and associated time frames needed to carry out the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) recommendation to increase the number of posts at which Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) is required.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on a draft of this report, State concurred with our recommendation, and subsequently began development of a new online course, the High Threat Security Overseas Seminar. The course is designed to meet the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review objective of training State personnel to respond to the security challenges of carrying out their diplomatic mission and operating in challenging environments. State's implementation plan for the seminar included development time frames, made the training mandatory at several posts, and included a verification component. As of January 2012, the course pilot had been completed at several posts and State was in the process of determining deployment time frames. Moreover, as an online course, State officials indicated that the course could easily be made mandatory at other posts, should State officials deem it necessary.

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