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  • We identified GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention and sent letters to the heads of key federal departments and agencies, urging them to continue focusing on the related issues. When implemented, these recommendations usually result in improvements such as:

    • saving large amounts of money;
    • helping Congress make decisions on major issues;
    • substantially improving or transforming major government programs or agencies;
    • eliminating mismanagement, fraud, waste, and abuse;
    • ensuring that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent; and
    • reducing unnecessary duplication, overlap, or fragmentation.

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    Results:

    Federal Agency: "Department of State"

    7 publications with a total of 17 priority recommendations
    Director: Michael J. Courts
    Phone: (202) 512-8980

    5 open priority recommendations
    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: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation and provided an update in April 2017 describing its plans to address the recommendation. However, as of October 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: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation and provided an update in April 2017 describing its plans to address the recommendation. However, as of October 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: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation and provided an update in April 2017 describing its plans to address the recommendation. However, as of October 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 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: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation and provided an update in April 2017 describing its plans to address the recommendation. However, as of October 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: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation and provided an update in April 2017 describing its plans to address the recommendation. However, as of October 2017, State had not completed the described actions. We will continue to monitor State's progress in implementing this recommendation.
    Director: David A. Powner
    Phone: (202) 512-9286

    1 open priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To address obsolete IT investments in need of modernization or replacement, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, State, the Treasury, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs; the Attorney General; and the Commissioner of Social Security should direct their respective agency CIOs to identify and plan to modernize or replace legacy systems as needed and consistent with OMB's draft guidance, including time frames, activities to be performed, and functions to be replaced or enhanced.

    Agency: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The agency agreed with the recommendation and stated that it plans to work with OMB upon the publication of OMB's guidance to identify opportunities for modernization. In an April 2017 update, the agency stated that it had extended plans to replace the systems mentioned in the report by several years. As of August 2017, the agency stated that it had finalized a new capital planning guide which includes investment review policy to identify opportunities for modernization and away from legacy systems. However, it is too soon to tell if it is in line with OMB's forthcoming guidance. We will continue to monitor the implementation of this recommendation.
    Director: Charles Michael Johnson, Jr.
    Phone: (202) 512-7331

    1 open priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To strengthen compliance with the Leahy laws and implementation of State's human rights vetting process and to help ensure that U.S. funded assistance is not provided to Egyptian security forces that have committed gross violations of human rights, as State works to implement a revised version of the International Vetting and Security Tracking system (INVEST) system that is expected to help facilitate equipment vetting, the Secretary of State should develop time frames for establishing corresponding policies and procedures to implement a vetting process to help enable the U.S. government to provide a more reasonable level of assurance that equipment is not transferred to foreign security forces, including those in Egypt, when there is credible information that a unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.

    Agency: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State agreed with this recommendation. State acknowledged challenges identifying recipients of equipment across the range of assistance activities, but noted that it would continue to update its systems and procedures to facilitate human rights vetting for recipients of equipment. In April 2017, State reported that it had provided finalized guidance on vetting Egyptian recipients of Foreign Military Financing-funded equipment to Embassy Cairo. These procedures have been incorporated into a revised version of Embassy Cairo's guide for conducting human rights vetting. According to State, Embassy Cairo has implemented these procedures. Also, as of June 2017, State has added new features to INVEST to help facilitate vetting of equipment recipients. However, State has not yet provided information on its plans for adopting the procedures used in Egypt more broadly in other countries that also receive equipment through the Foreign Military Financing account or through other U.S. assistance programs. In addition, State has not established requirements for posts to use the new equipment vetting features in INVEST. We will continue to monitor agency efforts to implement this recommendation.
    Director: Michael J. Courts
    Phone: (202) 512-8980

    3 open priority recommendations
    Recommendation: To enhance State's efforts to manage risks to residences, schools, and other soft targets overseas, the Secretary of State should direct the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) to institute procedures to improve posts' compliance with requirements for conducting residential security surveys.

    Agency: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: To improve posts' compliance with residential survey requirements, State is developing a global standardized residential survey program that, according to DS, will give DS officials at State headquarters and security officers at posts the ability to access and audit security surveys for all residential holdings. DS estimated a 12-month development cycle for this program beginning in February 2017. As of October 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 risks to residences, schools, and other soft targets overseas, the Secretary of State should direct DS to take steps to clarify existing standards and security-related guidance for residences. For example, DS could conduct a comprehensive review of its various standards and security-related guidance for residences and take steps to identify and eliminate gaps and inconsistencies.

    Agency: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State conducted a review of existing standards and identified numerous gaps, inconsistencies, and standards receiving exceptions more than being followed. As of October 2017, State was in the process of updating these standards. We will continue to monitor State's progress in implementing this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance State's efforts to manage risks to residences, schools, and other soft targets overseas, the Secretary of State should direct DS to develop procedures for ensuring that all residences at posts overseas either meet applicable standards or have required exceptions on file.

    Agency: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: To ensure residences meet applicable standards, State is developing a global standardized residential survey program that, according to DS, will give DS officials at State headquarters and security officers at posts the ability to access and audit security surveys for all residential holdings. DS has estimated a 12-month development cycle for this program beginning in February 2017. As of October 2017, DS had also launched a system to track exception requests and approvals. We will continue to monitor State's progress in implementing this recommendation.
    Director: Charles Michael Johnson, Jr.
    Phone: (202) 512-7331

    1 open priority recommendation
    Recommendation: Given the significant unobligated balances of about $260 million in the ESF account for Egypt previously allocated for a cash transfer that the administration has stated it no longer intends to carry out, the Secretary of State and the USAID Administrator should work to develop plans for an alternate use of these funds, in consultation with the appropriate committees of Congress. As part of planning for these funds, State should also consider ways that this funding could potentially be used to offset future budget requests.

    Agency: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In written comments on our draft report, State and USAID generally concurred with our recommendation. State and USAID reported in May 2016 that the agencies had reprogrammed $230 million of the $260 million previously allocated for the cash transfer to the Egyptian government for programs in Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, and Egypt, among other countries. As of May 2017, State and USAID had not yet made a decision on how to best utilize the remaining $30 million. GAO will continue to monitor agency efforts to fully implement this recommendation.
    Director: Courts, Michael J
    Phone: (202) 512-8980

    2 open priority recommendations
    Recommendation: To strengthen the applicability and effectiveness of the Department of State's physical security standards, the Secretary of State should work through DS or, in his capacity as chair, through the OSPB to clarify existing flexibilities in the FAH to ensure that security and life-safety updates to the OSPB standards and Physical Security Handbook are updated through an expedited review process.

    Agency: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: As of September 2017, State had drafted a revision to the Overseas Security Policy Board (OSPB) Working Group Guidelines in the Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH) to clarify existing flexibilities for and to formalize an expedited process for making security and life-safety updates to the OSPB standards and Physical Security Handbook, and according to State, the revisions are under review.
    Recommendation: To strengthen the effectiveness of the Department of State's risk management policies, the Secretary of State should develop a risk management policy and procedures for ensuring the physical security of diplomatic facilities, including roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders and a routine feedback process that continually incorporates new information.

    Agency: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In December 2016, we learned that State had convened a working group to develop a comprehensive risk management policy. According to State, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security is coordinating this working group. As of September 2017, State expects to publish the new risk management policy by December 31, 2018.
    Director: Charles Michael Johnson, Jr.
    Phone: (202) 512-7331

    4 open priority recommendations
    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: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation, but has not yet identified 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. As of March 2017, 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 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: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    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. In October 2016, State officials reported that State had rolled out a ClassNet SharePoint site, and that they expected that the site would include Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs posts by January 1, 2017. The SharePoint site allows designated users in Washington, D.C. and at posts to access the Foreign Service Institute's training records database. As of March 2017, GAO continues to monitor State's efforts to fully address the 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 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: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, as of March 2017, State had taken several steps to ensure that the electronic Country Clearance (eCC) is easier for personnel to use, but these steps do not ensure that the personnel responsible for verifying FACT training before deployment are doing so. For instance, State updated the current eCC to require personnel traveling to High Threat, High Risk Posts to certify FACT training, with radio buttons for the following: (1) whether the stay is greater than 45 days; (2) whether the traveler has spent more than 45 total days at a High Threat, High Risk Post within the last 365-days; and (3) whether the traveler has completed FACT. If the eCC user responds that the traveler has not taken FACT, he or she must provide a justification. In addition, the eCC system requires personnel traveling to High Threat, High Risk Posts to certify whether they have completed FACT and to provide the completion date. When the eCC user enters this information, he or she is prompted with a box that instructs him or her to "provide documentation of FACT Training (e.g. Certificate) upon arrival at Post" and to click OK to continue. Since May 2016, the agency had been developing a new eCC application that will include automated checks of training records. Agency officials expect to produce this new application in the summer of 2017. GAO continues to monitor State's efforts to fully address the 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: Department of State
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: As of May 2015, State officials said that they are developing a plan to utilize various electronic systems to monitor overall levels of compliance for assigned and short-term TDY personnel. The plan is being developed iteratively and is subject to change based on findings and lessons learned from each stage as well as constraints based on cyber security compliance. As of March 2017, State did not report further progress on this recommendation.