State Department Should Improve Data Collection and Participant Oversight
GAO-17-704: Published: Sep 28, 2017. Publicly Released: Oct 4, 2017.
The State Department spends more than $100 million a year to provide counterterrorism training, such as hostage rescue techniques, to foreign law enforcement personnel.
However, State's data on training courses and participants are incomplete and sometimes inaccurate. In addition, it doesn't have a process to confirm that participants trained outside their home countries return home to use the training. State was thus unaware that some participants have failed to go home after training.
We recommended that State improve its data and develop a process to confirm participants trained outside their own country return home.
Antiterrorism Assistance Participants in Training
Antiterrorism Assistance participants in training
What GAO Found
Weaknesses exist in Department of State (State) Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program data and oversight of participants, including those trained in the United States. ATA course and participant data are incomplete and sometimes inaccurate, despite ATA's procedures for the collection of those data. ATA officials told GAO that procedures were not always followed. Without ensuring the implementation of procedures to collect complete and accurate program data, officials may not be able to accurately report the number of participants trained, in line with program performance indicators. Among participants trained in the United States since 2012, ATA has documented 10 participant unauthorized departures from ATA activities and provided related information to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for follow-up. In addition to these 10, ATA recently identified 20 ATA participants trained in fiscal years 2012 through 2016 for whom departure from the United States following the completion of training is unconfirmed. ATA officials told GAO there is no formal process to confirm participants' return to their home countries following the completion of training (see fig.). Without such a process, ATA may not be able to assess the extent to which it is using training in line with program goals. Further, State may not be able to provide information to DHS about participants whose failure to depart may warrant enforcement action.
State's Process for Overseeing Domestic ATA Training Participants
aATA may or may not provide escort to the airport following the conclusion of training for participants who undertake personal travel, as permitted by the terms of their admission to the United States.
bAs of January 2015.
State and the contractors who implement ATA training have taken steps to ensure that facilities used for domestic training align with applicable security requirements. State's ATA training contract requires the secure storage of weapons and explosives and that the contractors have the relevant federal, state, and local permits. State reports overseeing the contractors through the receipt of copies of relevant licenses such as those required for possessing explosives; visits to the training facilities, including surveys examining storage security; and frequent meetings. Both of the domestic tactical training facilities that GAO visited had relevant licenses and, during site visits, GAO observed some suggested security measures, including fences, secured gates, and security patrols.
Why GAO Did This Study
State's ATA program aims to enhance foreign partners' capabilities to prevent acts of terrorism, address terrorism incidents when they do occur, and apprehend and prosecute those involved in such acts. In fiscal years 2012 through 2016, State allocated about $715 million to the ATA program, which it reports to have used to train about 56,000 security force officials from more than 34 partner nations. At least 2,700 of those participants were trained at facilities in the United States.
GAO was asked to review ATA program management. This report examines, among other objectives, (1) State's ability to oversee ATA participants trained in the United States and (2) the steps State has taken to ensure that facilities used for domestic ATA training align with applicable security requirements. GAO conducted fieldwork at two domestic training facilities selected because they provide tactical training; analyzed State and DHS data and documentation related to fiscal year 2012 through 2016 domestic training participants; and interviewed State and DHS officials, including those who oversee ATA training for three partner nations receiving significant ATA training. GAO also interviewed contractors who help implement the ATA program and analyzed related documents.
What GAO Recommends
State should ensure implementation of its data collection procedures and establish a process to confirm and document participants' return to their home countries. State agreed with both recommendations.
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Recommendations for Executive Action
Comments: On August 28, 2017, having reviewed a draft version of GAO-17-704, State concurred with this recommendation and noted that ATA had revised its standard operating procedures for collecting data and shared the document with us. We will follow-up with ATA regarding steps taken to ensure the implementation of those procedures.
Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security should take steps to ensure the implementation of revised standard operating procedures for collecting electronic ATA course and participant data. (Recommendation 1)
Agency Affected: Department of State
Comments: On August 28, 2017, having reviewed a draft version of GAO-17-704, State concurred with this recommendation and stated that, by the end of the year, it will implement a process to ensure that participants sent to ATA training in the United States return to their home countries. We will follow-up with ATA regarding the implementation of such a process for participants sent to ATA training in the United States or other locations outside of their home countries.
Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security should develop and implement a process to confirm and document whether future ATA participants return to their home countries following the completion of ATA training and, for any participants trained in the United States who do not, share relevant information with the Department of Homeland Security. (Recommendation 2)
Agency Affected: Department of State