Countering Overseas Threats:

Gaps in State Department Management of Security Training May Increase Risk to U.S. Personnel

GAO-14-360: Published: Mar 10, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 10, 2014.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Charles Michael Johnson, Jr
(202) 512-7331
johnsoncm@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

Using data from multiple sources, GAO determined that 675 of 708 Department of State (State) personnel and all 143 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) personnel on assignments longer than 6 months (assigned personnel) in the designated high-threat countries on March 31, 2013, were in compliance with the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training requirement. GAO found that the remaining 33 State assigned personnel on such assignments had not complied with the mandatory requirement. For State and USAID personnel on temporary duty of 6 months or less (short-term TDY personnel), GAO was unable to assess compliance because of gaps in State's data. State does not systematically maintain data on the universe of U.S. personnel on short-term TDY status to designated high-threat countries who were required to complete FACT training. This is because State lacks a mechanism for identifying those who are subject to the training requirement. These data gaps prevent State or an independent reviewer from assessing compliance with the FACT training requirement among short-term TDY personnel. According to Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government , program managers need operating information to determine whether they are meeting compliance requirements.

State's guidance and management oversight of personnel's compliance with the FACT training requirement have weaknesses that limit State's ability to ensure that personnel are prepared for service in designated high-threat countries. These weaknesses include the following:

  • State's policy and guidance related to FACT training—including its Foreign Affairs Manual , eCountry Clearance instructions for short-term TDY personnel, and guidance on the required frequency of FACT training—are outdated, inconsistent, or unclear. For example, although State informed other agencies of June 2013 policy changes to the FACT training requirement, State had not yet updated its Foreign Affairs Manual to reflect those changes as of January 2014. The changes included an increase in the number of high-threat countries requiring FACT training from 9 to 18. 
  • State and USAID do not consistently verify that U.S. personnel complete FACT training before arriving in designated high-threat countries. For example, State does not verify compliance for 4 of the 9 countries for which it required FACT training before June 2013. 
  • State does not monitor or evaluate overall levels of compliance with the FACT training requirement. 

State's Foreign Affairs Manual notes that it is the responsibility of employees to ensure their own compliance with the FACT training requirement. However, the manual and Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government also note that management is responsible for putting in place adequate controls to help ensure that agency directives are carried out. The gaps in State oversight may increase the risk that personnel assigned to high-threat countries do not complete FACT training, potentially placing their own and others' safety in jeopardy.

Why GAO Did This Study

U.S personnel engaged in efforts overseas have faced numerous threats to their security. To mitigate these threats and prepare U.S. personnel for work in high-threat environments, State established a mandatory requirement that specified U.S. executive branch personnel under chief-of-mission authority and on assignments or short-term TDY complete FACT security training before arrival in a high-threat environment. This report examines (1) State and USAID personnel's compliance with the FACT training requirement and (2) State's and USAID's oversight of their personnel's compliance. GAO reviewed agencies' policy guidance; analyzed State and USAID personnel data from March 2013 and training data for 2008 through 2013; reviewed agency documents; and interviewed agency officials in Washington, D.C., and at various overseas locations. This public version of a February 2014 sensitive report excludes information that State has deemed sensitive.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making several recommen-dations to improve oversight of compliance with the FACT training requirement. These include identifying a mechanism to readily determine the universe of U.S. personnel subject to the requirement, updating State's policy manual to reflect changes made to the requirement in June 2013, consistently verifying that all U.S. civilian personnel have completed FACT training before arriving in designated high-threat countries, and monitoring compliance with the requirement. State concurred with the recommendations and stated that it will take steps to address them. USAID did not specifically agree or disagree but noted it plans to take additional steps.

For more information, contact Charles Michael Johnson, Jr. at (202) 512-7331 or johnsoncm@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2014, State updated the FAM, noting that the list of posts currently designated as high-threat is maintained by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and that personnel should contact their human resources assignments officer or check with their bureau's executive directorate for current high-threat posts subject to mandatory FACT training.

    Recommendation: To ensure that State's policy guidance reflects the June 2013 mandatory FACT training requirements and provides clear information to U.S. agencies on which personnel are required to take FACT training, the Secretary of State should update the Foreign Affairs Manual to reflect the nine additional countries that were added in June 2013.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation, and GAO is monitoring State's efforts to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that State's policy guidance reflects the June 2013 mandatory FACT training requirements and provides clear information to U.S. agencies on which personnel are required to take FACT training, the Secretary of States should update the Foreign Affairs Manual to reflect the requirement for all eligible family members assigned or on short-term TDY to the designated high-threat countries to complete FACT training before deployment.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2014, State updated the FAM, noting that all personal under chief of mission authority or who will be present at one or a combination of high-threat posts for more than 45 cumulative days in a calendar year are required to take FACT training.

    Recommendation: To ensure that State's policy guidance reflects the June 2013 mandatory FACT training requirements and provides clear information to U.S. agencies on which personnel are required to take FACT training, the Secretary of State should update the Foreign Affairs Manual to indicate that short-term TDY personnel who spend more than 45 cumulative days in a calendar year at one or more of the designated posts are required to complete FACT training.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State fundamentally concurred with our recommendation. State issued a guidance memorandum in July 2014 that described the length of validity for FACT training. Specifically, the new policy guidance states that, "employees or employed eligible family members (EFMs) assigned to a FACT-mandatory post will be required to have a certificate valid at minimum through the date of arrival at post for their tour of duty. Employees and employed EFMs are strongly encouraged to ensure their certificate is valid through the tour of duty." Additionally, the new policy guidance further clarifies that employees with FACT certification expiring before arrival to post are required to take FACT as well as individuals whose FACT training expires while at post, if she or he has 180 days left at post.

    Recommendation: To ensure that State's policy guidance reflects the June 2013 mandatory FACT training requirements and provides clear information to U.S. agencies on which personnel are required to take FACT training, the Secretary of State should update the Foreign Affairs Manual to clarify whether FACT training completion must be valid during an employee's entire assignment or short-term TDY visit.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation, and as of July 2015, GAO continues to monitor State's efforts to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To strengthen State's ability to ensure that U.S. civilian personnel are in compliance with the FACT training requirement, the Secretary of State should identify a mechanism to readily determine the universe of assigned U.S. civilian personnel under chief-of-mission authority who are required to complete FACT training.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation, and GAO is monitoring State's efforts to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To strengthen State's ability to ensure that U.S. civilian personnel are in compliance with the FACT training requirement, the Secretary of State should identify a mechanism to readily determine the universe of short-term TDY U.S. civilian personnel who are required to complete FACT training--specifically, required personnel who have spent 45 days or more in the designated high-threat countries in a calendar year.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: State agreed with the recommendation, and on July 7, 2014--subsequent to our report issuance and addressing this recommendation --State issued a memo to all agencies that now requires FACT completion dates to be included on the eCC for approval prior to travel to post.

    Recommendation: To strengthen State's ability to ensure that U.S. civilian personnel are in compliance with the FACT training requirement, the Secretary of State should ensure that eCountry Clearance instructions regarding the documentation of the FACT training requirement for short-term TDY personnel are consistent for all designated high-threat countries.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: State agreed with the recommendation, and on July 7, 2014--subsequent to our report issuance and addressing this finding--State issued a memo to all agencies that states that it is the responsibility of each agency to ensure its employees are in compliance with FACT training requirements prior to travel to the relevant posts. The memo also requires employees to provide a FACT completion certificate to posts upon request.

    Recommendation: To strengthen State's ability to ensure that U.S. civilian personnel are in compliance with the FACT training requirement, the Secretary of State should take steps to ensure that management personnel responsible for assigning personnel to designated high-threat countries consistently verify that all assigned U.S. civilian personnel under chief-of-mission authority who are required to complete FACT training have completed it before arrival in the designated high-threat countries.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: State agreed with the recommendation, and on July 7, 2014--subsequent to our report issuance and addressing this recommendation--State issued a memo to all agencies that states that it is the responsibility of each agency to ensure its employees are in compliance with FACT training requirements prior to travel to the relevant posts. The memo also requires employees to provide a FACT completion certificate to posts upon request.

    Recommendation: To strengthen State's ability to ensure that U.S. civilian personnel are in compliance with the FACT training requirement, the Secretary of State should take steps to ensure that management personnel responsible for granting country clearance consistently verify that all short-term TDY U.S. civilian personnel under chief-of-mission authority who are required to complete FACT training have completed it before arrival in the designated high-threat countries.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  10. Status: Open

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation, and GAO is monitoring State's efforts to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To strengthen State's ability to ensure that U.S. civilian personnel are in compliance with the FACT training requirement, the Secretary of State should monitor or evaluate overall levels of compliance with the FACT training requirement among U.S. civilian personnel under chief-of-mission authority who are subject to the requirement.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  11. Status: Open

    Comments: USAID commented in June 2014 that it currently has no means to keep track of each employee's cumulative days of travel to posts requiring FACT training. USAID stated that by April 2015, it expects to require each employee traveling to posts with a FACT training requirement to include a statement in their travel authorization of whether such travel will result in more than 45 days total at posts requiring FACT training, within a 12-month period. If so, the employee will be required to submit evidence of FACT training completion with the authorization. We will continue to monitor USAID efforts to implement the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The USAID Administrator should take steps to ensure that all USAID short-term TDY personnel who are required to take FACT training complete the training before arrival in the designated high-threat countries, as USAID has done for its assigned personnel.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Jul 29, 2015

Jul 15, 2015

Jul 9, 2015

Jun 25, 2015

Jun 17, 2015

Jun 8, 2015

Looking for more? Browse all our products here