Diplomatic Security:

State Should Enhance Its Management of Transportation-Related Risks to Overseas U.S. Personnel

GAO-17-124: Published: Oct 4, 2016. Publicly Released: Oct 4, 2016.

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Contact:

Michael J. Courts
(202) 512-8980
courtsm@gao.gov

 

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

Is State Department doing enough to keep U.S. personnel safe?

U.S. personnel overseas can be targets of terrorism, violence, and crime—particularly while in transit. From 1998 to 2015, State Department personnel were attacked more than 100 times while traveling outside of embassy compounds, with many of the worst attacks occurring while victims were in motorcades, official vehicles, or other forms of transportation.

State has taken steps to protect personnel in transit, but we found opportunities to enhance transportation policies, training, and communications, and made multiple recommendations to that end.

Motorcade Tactics and Defensive Driver Training for Diplomatic Security Agents

Photos of diplomatic security agents in various training exercises

Photos of diplomatic security agents in various training exercises

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Michael J. Courts
(202) 512-8980
courtsm@gao.gov

 

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

What GAO Found

The Department of State (State) has established policies related to transportation security for overseas U.S. personnel, but gaps exist in guidance and monitoring. GAO reviewed 26 posts and found that all 26 had issued transportation security and travel notification policies. However, policies at 22 of the 26 posts lacked elements required by State, due in part to fragmented implementation guidance on what such policies should include. State also lacks a clear armored vehicle policy for overseas posts and procedures for monitoring if posts are assessing their armored vehicle needs at least annually as required by State. These gaps limit State's ability to ensure that posts develop clear policies that are consistent with State's requirements and that vehicle needs for secure transit are met.

While State provides several types of training related to overseas transportation security, weaknesses exist in post-specific refresher training. Regional security officers (RSO) receive required training related to transportation security in special agent courses, and nonsecurity staff reported receiving relevant training before departing for posts—including on topics such as defensive driving and the importance of taking personal responsibility for one's security—as well as new arrival briefings at posts. At most of the 9 posts GAO visited, however, staff had difficulty remembering key details covered in new arrival briefings or described the one-time briefings as inadequate. State's requirements for providing refresher briefings are unclear, potentially putting staff at greater risk.

Motorcade Tactics and Defensive Driver Training for Diplomatic Security Agents

Motorcade Tactics and Defensive Driver Training for Diplomatic Security Agents

State uses various systems at overseas posts to communicate time-sensitive information related to transportation security, but several factors hinder its efforts. RSOs and other post officials are responsible for communicating threat information to post personnel. However, at 4 of the 9 posts it visited, GAO learned of instances in which staff did not receive important threat information in a timely manner for various reasons. In one case, this resulted in an embassy vehicle being attacked with rocks and seriously damaged while traveling through a prohibited area. In addition, while all 9 of the posts GAO visited require that personnel notify the RSO before traveling to certain locations, personnel at more than half of the 9 posts said they were unaware of these requirements or had difficulty accessing required travel notification systems. Timely communication is critical for managing transportation security risks, and failure to communicate important transportation-related information and receive such information promptly could leave overseas personnel facing avoidable security risks.

Why GAO Did This Study

U.S. diplomatic personnel posted overseas continue to face threats to their security. According to State, personnel and their families are particularly vulnerable when traveling outside the relative security of diplomatic work facilities or residences. In many serious or fatal attacks on U.S. personnel over the last three decades, victims were targeted while in motorcades, official vehicles, or otherwise in transit.

GAO was asked to review how State manages transportation-related security risks to U.S. diplomatic personnel overseas. For this report, GAO evaluated the extent to which State, with regard to transportation security at overseas posts, has (1) established policies, guidance, and monitoring; (2) provided personnel with training; and (3) communicated time-sensitive information. GAO reviewed agency documents and met with key officials in Washington, D.C. GAO also reviewed policies from a judgmental sample of 26 posts—primarily higher-threat, higher-risk locations—and conducted fieldwork and met with officials at 9 of these posts. This is the public version of a sensitive but unclassified report issued in September 2016.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making eight recommendations in this report to help State improve its management of transportation-related security risks by enhancing associated policies, guidance, and monitoring; clarifying its requirements for refresher briefings; and better communicating time-sensitive information. State agreed to take steps for all but one recommendation—the need to clarify its requirements for refresher briefings. GAO continues to believe this is needed as discussed in the report.

For more information, contact Michael J. Courts at (202) 512-8980 or courtsm@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation and provided an update in October 2016 describing its plans to address the recommendation. However, as of March 2017, State had not completed the described actions. We will continue to monitor State's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance State's efforts to manage transportation-related security risks overseas, the Secretary of State should direct the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) to create consolidated guidance for RSOs that specifies required elements to include in post travel notification and transportation security policies. For example, as part of its current effort to develop standard templates for certain security directives, DS could develop templates for transportation security and travel notification policies that specify the elements required in all security directives as recommended by the February 2005 Iraq ARB as well as the standard transportation-related elements that DS requires in such policies.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation and provided an update in October 2016 describing its plans to address the recommendation. However, as of March 2017, State had not completed the described actions. We will continue to monitor State's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance State's efforts to manage transportation-related security risks overseas, the Secretary of State should direct DS to create more comprehensive guidance for DS reviewers to use when evaluating posts' transportation security and travel notification policies. For example, the checklist DS reviewers currently use could be modified to stipulate that reviewers should check all security directives for DS-required elements recommended by the February 2005 Iraq ARB. The checklist could also provide guidance on how to take the presence or absence of these required elements into account when assigning a score to a given policy.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation and provided an update in October 2016 describing its plans to address the recommendation. However, as of March 2017, State had not completed the described actions. We will continue to monitor State's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance State's efforts to manage transportation-related security risks overseas, the Secretary of State should direct DS to clarify whether or not the FAH's armored vehicle policy for overseas posts is that every post must have sufficient armored vehicles, and if DS determines that the policy does not apply to all posts, articulate the conditions under which it does not apply.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  4. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation and provided an update in October 2016 describing its plans to address the recommendation. However, as of March 2017, State had not completed the described actions. We will continue to monitor State's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance State's efforts to manage transportation-related security risks overseas, the Secretary of State should direct DS to develop monitoring procedures to ensure that all posts comply with the FAH's armored vehicle policy for overseas posts once the policy is clarified.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  5. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation and provided an update in October 2016 describing its plans to address the recommendation. However, as of March 2017, State had not completed the described actions. We will continue to monitor State's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance State's efforts to manage transportation-related security risks overseas, the Secretary of State should direct DS to implement a mechanism, in coordination with other relevant State offices, to ensure that Emergency Action Committee discuss their posts' armored vehicle needs at least once each year.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  6. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: As of April 2017, State concurred with this recommendation and plans to clarify its guidance on refresher training. We will continue to monitor State's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance State's efforts to manage transportation-related security risks overseas, the Secretary of State should direct DS to clarify existing guidance on refresher training, such as by delineating how often refresher training should be provided at posts facing different types and levels of threats, which personnel should receive refresher training, and how the completion of refresher training should be documented.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  7. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation and provided an update in October 2016 describing its plans to address the recommendation. However, as of March 2017, State had not completed the described actions. We will continue to monitor State's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance State's efforts to manage transportation-related security risks overseas, the Secretary of State should direct DS to improve guidance for RSOs, in coordination with other relevant State offices and non-State agencies as appropriate, on how to promote timely communication of threat information to post personnel and timely receipt of such information by post personnel.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  8. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation and provided an update in October 2016 describing its plans to address the recommendation. However, as of March 2017, State had not completed the described actions. We will continue to monitor State's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance State's efforts to manage transportation-related security risks overseas, the Secretary of State should direct DS to take steps, in coordination with other relevant State offices and non-State agencies as appropriate, to make travel notification systems easily accessible to post personnel who are required to submit such notifications, including both State and non-State personnel.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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