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Before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the 
Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, Committee on Homeland 
Security and Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 2:30 p.m. EST:
Wednesday, December 9, 2009: 

State Department: 

Challenges Facing the Bureau of Diplomatic Security: 

Statement of Jess T. Ford, Director: 
International Affairs and Trade: 


[End of section] 

December 9, 2009: 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I am pleased to be here to discuss the Department of State's (State) 
Bureau of Diplomatic Security (Diplomatic Security), which is 
responsible for the protection of people, information, and property at 
over 400 embassies, consulates, and domestic locations. Since the 1998 
bombings of U.S. Embassies in East Africa, the scope and complexity of 
threats facing Americans abroad and at home has increased. Diplomatic 
Security must be prepared to counter threats such as crime, espionage, 
visa and passport fraud, technological intrusions, political violence, 
and terrorism. 

My statement today is based on a GAO report that was issued on November 
12, 2009.[Footnote 1] I will discuss (1) the growth of Diplomatic 
Security's missions and resources and (2) the challenges Diplomatic 
Security faces in conducting its work. 

To address these objectives in our report, we (1) interviewed numerous 
officials at Diplomatic Security headquarters, several domestic 
facilities, and 18 international postings;[Footnote 2] (2) analyzed 
Diplomatic Security and State budget and personnel data; and (3) 
assessed challenges facing Diplomatic Security through analysis of 
interviews with personnel positioned domestically and internationally, 
budget and personnel data provided by State and Diplomatic Security, 
and planning and strategic documentation. We conducted this performance 
audit from September 2008 to November 2009, in accordance with 
generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards 
require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, 
appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and 
conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence 
obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions 
based on our audit objectives. 

In brief, Mr. Chairman, we found that, since 1998, Diplomatic 
Security's mission and activities--and, subsequently, its resources-- 
have grown considerably in reaction to a number of security incidents. 
As a consequence of this growth, we identified several challenges. In 
particular (1) State is maintaining a presence in an increasing number 
of dangerous posts, which requires additional resources; (2) staffing 
shortages in domestic offices and other operational challenges--such as 
inadequate facilities, language deficiencies, experience gaps, and the 
difficulty of balancing security needs with State's diplomatic mission--
further tax Diplomatic Security's ability to implement all of its 
missions; and (3) Diplomatic Security's considerable growth has not 
benefited from adequate strategic guidance. In our report, we recommend 
that the Secretary of State--as part of the agency's Quadrennial 
Diplomatic and Development Review (QDDR) or separately--conduct a 
strategic review of Diplomatic Security to ensure that its missions and 
activities address its priority needs. 

Diplomatic Security's Mission and Resources Have Grown Considerably 
Since 1998: 

Because of a number of security incidents, Diplomatic Security's 
missions and resources have grown tremendously in the past decade. The 
growth in Diplomatic Security's mission includes key areas such as 
enhanced physical security and investigations. Following the 1998 
attacks on U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Diplomatic Security 
determined that more than 85 percent of U.S. diplomatic facilities did 
not meet its security standards and were therefore vulnerable to 
terrorist attack; in response, Diplomatic Security added many of the 
physical security measures currently in place at most U.S. missions 
worldwide, such as additional barriers, alarms, public address systems, 
and enhanced access procedures. Since 1998, there have been 39 attacks 
aimed at U.S. Embassies, Consulates, or Chief of Mission personnel (not 
including regular attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad since 
2004). The nature of some of these attacks has led Diplomatic Security 
to further adapt its security measures. Moreover, the attacks of 
September 11, 2001, underscored the importance of upgrading Diplomatic 
Security's domestic security programs and enhancing its investigative 
capacity. Furthermore, following the onset of U.S. operations in Iraq 
in 2003, Diplomatic Security has had to provide security in the Iraq 
and Afghanistan war zones and other increasingly hostile environments 
such as Pakistan. 

Diplomatic Security funding and personnel have also increased 
considerably in conjunction with its expanding missions. Diplomatic 
Security reports that its budget has increased from about $200 million 
in 1998 to $1.8 billion in 2008. In addition, the size of Diplomatic 
Security's direct-hire workforce has doubled since 1998. The number of 
direct-hire security specialists (special agents, engineers, 
technicians, and couriers) increased from under 1,000 in 1998 to over 
2,000 in 2009, and the number of direct-hire civil service personnel 
increased from 258 to 592. At the same time, Diplomatic Security has 
increased its use of contractors to support its security operations 
worldwide, specifically through increases in the Diplomatic Security 
guard force and the use of contractors to provide protective details 
for American diplomats in high-threat environments. 

Dangerous Environments, Staffing Shortages, and Reactive Planning 
Challenge Diplomatic Security: 

Diplomatic Security faces several policy and operational challenges. 
First, State is maintaining missions in increasingly dangerous 
locations, necessitating the use of more resources and making it more 
difficult to provide security in these locations. Second, although 
Diplomatic Security has grown considerably in staff over the last 10 
years, staffing shortages in domestic offices, as well as other 
operational challenges further tax Diplomatic Security's ability to 
implement all of its missions. Finally, State has expanded Diplomatic 
Security without the benefit of solid strategic planning. 

Maintaining Missions in Iraq and Other Increasingly Dangerous Posts 
Significantly Affects Diplomatic Security's Work: 

Diplomatic Security officials stated that maintaining missions in 
dangerous environments such as Iraq and Afghanistan requires more 
resources and increases the difficulty for Diplomatic Security to 
provide a secure environment. 

Keeping staff secure, yet productive, in Iraq has been one of 
Diplomatic Security's greatest challenges since 2004, when security for 
the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad transferred from the U.S. Department of 
Defense to Diplomatic Security. The U.S. mission in Baghdad--with 1,300 
authorized U.S. civilian personnel--is one of the largest in the world. 
Maintaining Diplomatic Security operations in Iraq has required 
approximately 36 percent of its entire budget each fiscal year since 
2004 and, as of September 2008, required 81 special agents to manage 
security operations. To support security operations in Iraq, Diplomatic 
Security has had to draw staff and resources away from other programs. 
Earlier in 2009, we reported that Diplomatic Security's workload--and 
thus its resource requirements--will likely increase as the U.S. 
military transitions out of Iraq.[Footnote 3] 

U.S. policymakers' increased focus on Afghanistan poses another 
significant challenge for Diplomatic Security. The security situation 
in Afghanistan has deteriorated since 2005, and the number of attacks 
there increased from 2,388 in 2005 to 10,889 in 2008. Afghanistan is 
Diplomatic Security's second largest overseas post with a staff of 22 
special agents in 2009. Diplomatic Security plans to add an additional 
25 special agents in 2010, effectively doubling the number of agents in 

In addition to operating in the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones, State 
is maintaining missions in an increasing number of other dangerous 
posts--such as Peshawar, Pakistan, and Sana'a, Yemen--some of which 
State would have previously evacuated. 

Diplomatic Security Faces Operational Challenges That Affect Its 
Ability to Implement Important Activities: 

Diplomatic Security's ability to fully carry out its mission of 
providing security worldwide is hindered by staffing shortages in 
domestic offices and other operational challenges such as inadequate 
facilities and pervasive language proficiency shortfalls. 

Some Diplomatic Security Offices Operate with Severe Staff Shortages: 

Despite Diplomatic Security's staff growth over the last 10 years, some 
offices have been operating with severe staffing shortages. In 2008, 
approximately one-third of Diplomatic Security's domestic suboffices 
operated with a 25 percent vacancy rate or higher. Several offices 
report that this shortage of staff affected their ability to conduct 
their work. For example: 

* The Houston field office reported that, for 6 months of the year, it 
operated at 50 percent capacity of nonsupervisory agents or lower, and 
for 2 months during the summer, it dipped down to a low of 35 percent. 
This staffing gap happened while the field office was experiencing a 
significant increase in its caseload due to the Western Hemisphere 
Travel Initiative. 

As a result, the Houston field office management reported that this 
combination overwhelmed its capabilities and resulted in a significant 
backlog of cases.[Footnote 4] 

* The New York field office reported that the number of special agents 
there dropped to 66 in 2008 from more than 110 agents in 2007. As a 
result, the office had to draw special agents from other field offices 
to cover its heavy dignitary protection load. 

* In 2008, the Mobile Security Deployment (MSD) Office was authorized 
to have 94 special agent positions, but only 76 were filled. 
Furthermore, Diplomatic Security officials noted that not all staff in 
filled positions are available for duty. For example, in 2009, 22 
agents assigned to MSD were in training. As a result of the low level 
of available staff, Diplomatic Security reported that many posts go for 
years without updating their security training.[Footnote 5] Officials 
noted that this lack of available agents is particularly problematic 
given the high number of critical threat posts that are only 1-year 
tours that would benefit from frequent training. 

State officials attributed these shortages to the following three 

* Staffing the Iraq mission: Staffing the Iraq mission in 2008 required 
16 percent of Diplomatic Security's staff. In order to provide enough 
Diplomatic Security special agents in Iraq, we reported that Diplomatic 
Security had to move agents from other programs, and those moves have 
affected the agency's ability to perform other missions, including 
providing security for visiting dignitaries and visa, passport, and 
identity fraud investigations.[Footnote 6] 

* Protection details: Diplomatic Security draws agents from field 
offices, headquarters, and overseas posts to participate in protective 
details and special events, such as the Olympics. Recently, Diplomatic 
Security's role: 

in providing protection at such major events has grown and will require 
more staff. 

* Normal rotations: Staff take home leave between postings and 
sometimes are required to take training before starting their next 
assignment. This rotation process regularly creates a labor shortage, 
which affects Diplomatic Security's ability to meet its increased 
security demands. In 2005, Diplomatic Security identified the need for 
a training float--additional staff that would allow it to fill critical 
positions and still allow staff time for job training--but Diplomatic 
Security has not been able to implement one. This is consistent with 
our observation that State has been unable to create a training float 
because its staff increases have been absorbed by the demand for 
personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Diplomatic Security requested funding to add over 350 security 
positions in fiscal year 2010. However, new hires cannot be immediately 
deployed overseas because they must meet training requirements. In 
addition to hiring new special agents, Diplomatic Security established 
the Security Protection Specialist (SPS) position in February 2009 to 
create a cadre of professionals specifically trained in personnel 
protection who can provide oversight for the contractor-operated 
protective details in high-threat posts. Because of the more targeted 
training requirements, Diplomatic Security would be able to deploy the 
SPS staff more quickly than new hire special agents. However, 
Diplomatic Security has had difficulty recruiting and hiring a 
sufficient number of SPS candidates. According to senior Diplomatic 
Security officials, it may cancel the program if it cannot recruit 
enough qualified candidates. 

Other Operational Challenges Impede Diplomatic Security's Ability to 
Fully Implement Its Missions and Activities: 

Diplomatic Security faces a number of other operational challenges that 
impede it from fully implementing its missions and activities, 

* Inadequate buildings: State is in the process of updating and 
building many new facilities. However, we have previously identified 
many posts that do not meet all security standards delineated by the 
Overseas Security Policy Board and the Secure Embassy Construction and 
Counterterrorism Act of 1999.[Footnote 7] 

* Foreign language deficiencies: Earlier this year, we found that 53 
percent of Regional Security Officers do not speak and read at the 
level required by their positions, and we concluded that these foreign 
language shortfalls could be negatively affecting several aspects of 
U.S. diplomacy, including security operations.[Footnote 8] For example, 
an officer at a post of strategic interest said because she did not 
speak the language, she had transferred a sensitive telephone call from 
a local informant to a local employee, which could have compromised the 
informant's identity. 

* Experience gaps: Thirty-four percent of Diplomatic Security's 
positions (not including those in Baghdad) are filled with officers 
below the position's grade. For example, several Assistant Regional 
Security Officers with whom we met were in their first overseas 
positions and stated that they did not feel adequately prepared for 
their job, particularly their responsibility to manage large security 
contracts. We previously reported that experience gaps can compromise 
diplomatic readiness.[Footnote 9] 

* Host country laws: At times, host country laws prohibit Diplomatic 
Security from taking all the security precautions it would like outside 
an embassy. For example, Diplomatic Security officials said that they 
prefer to arm their local guard forces and their special agents; 
however, several countries prohibit this. In cases of attack, this 
prohibition limits Diplomatic Security's ability to protect an embassy 
or consulate. 

* Balancing security with the diplomatic mission: Diplomatic Security's 
desire to provide the best security possible for State's diplomatic 
corps has, at times, been in tension with State's diplomatic mission. 
For example, Diplomatic Security has established strict policies 
concerning access to U.S. facilities that usually include both personal 
and vehicle screening. Some public affairs officials--whose job it is 
to foster relations with host country nationals--have expressed 
concerns that these security measures discourage visitors from 
attending U.S. Embassy events or exhibits. In addition, the new 
embassies and consulates, with their high walls, deep setbacks, and 
strict screening procedures, have evoked the nickname, "Fortress 

Although Some Planning Initiatives Have Been Undertaken, Diplomatic 
Security's Growth Has Been More Reactive Than Strategic: 

Although some planning initiatives have been undertaken, neither 
State's departmental strategic plan nor Diplomatic Security's bureau 
strategic plan specifically addresses its resource needs or its 
management challenges. Diplomatic Security's tremendous growth over the 
last 10 years has been reactive and has not benefited from adequate 
strategic guidance. 

State's strategic plan does not specifically address Diplomatic 
Security's resource needs or management challenges, as required by the 
Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) and other 
standards.[Footnote 10] While State's strategic plan for 2007-2012 has 
a section identifying security priorities and goals, we found it did 
not identify the resources needed to meet these goals or address all of 
the management challenges we identified in this report. 

Diplomatic Security has undertaken some planning efforts at the bureau 
and office level, but these efforts also have limitations. First, 
Diplomatic Security creates an annual bureau strategic plan.[Footnote 
11] While this plan lists priorities, goals, and indicators, these 
elements are not always linked together. Further, the plan does not 
identify what staff, equipment, or funding would be needed. Second, 
Diplomatic Security has created a Visa and Passport Security Strategic 
Plan to guide its efforts to disrupt individuals and organizations that 
attempt to compromise the integrity of U.S. travel documents. Third, 
Diplomatic Security reported that it is currently examining all of its 
security programs to determine how funding and personnel resources are 
distributed and support its goals. Finally, Diplomatic Security uses 
established security standards and staffing matrixes to determine what 
resources are needed for various activities. However, while these 
various tools help specific offices or missions plan their resource 
requests, they are not useful for determining overall bureau needs. 

Several senior Diplomatic Security officials noted that Diplomatic 
Security remains reactive in nature, stating several reasons for its 
lack of long-term strategic planning. First, Diplomatic Security 
provides a support function and must react to the needs of State; 
therefore, it cannot plan its own resources until State determines 
overall policy direction. Second, while State has a 5-year workforce 
plan that addresses all bureaus, officials stated that Diplomatic 
Security does not use this plan to determine its staffing needs. 
Finally, past efforts to strategically plan Diplomatic Security 
resources have gone unheeded. For example, Diplomatic Security's bureau 
strategic plan for fiscal year 2006 identified a need to (1) develop a 
workforce strategy to recruit and sustain a diverse and highly skilled 
security personnel base and (2) establish a training float to address 
recurring staffing problems. However, as of September 2009, Diplomatic 
Security had not addressed either of those needs. 

Diplomatic Security officials stated they hope to participate in a new 
State management initiative, the Quadrennial Diplomatic and Development 
Review (QDDR). This review, which will be managed by a senior 
leadership team under the direction of the Secretary of State, is 
designed to provide the short-, medium-, and long-term blueprints for 
State's diplomatic and development efforts and offer guidance on how 
State develops policies, allocates its resources, deploys its staff, 
and exercises its authorities. 

Recommendations for Executive Action: 

In our report, we recommended that the Secretary of State--as part of 
the QDDR or as a separate initiative--conduct a strategic review of the 
Bureau of Diplomatic Security to ensure that its missions and 
activities address State's priority needs. This review should also 
address key human capital and operational challenges faced by 
Diplomatic Security, such as: 

* operating domestic and international activities with adequate staff; 

* providing security for facilities that do not meet all security 

* staffing foreign missions with officials who have appropriate 
language skills; 

* operating programs with experienced staff, at the commensurate grade 
levels; and: 

* balancing security needs with State's need to conduct its diplomatic 

State agreed with our recommendation and noted that, although it is 
currently not planning to perform a strategic review of the full 
Diplomatic Security mission and capabilities in the QDDR, the Under 
Secretary for Management and the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic 
Security are completely committed to ensuring that Diplomatic 
Security's mission will benefit from this initiative. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be pleased 
to respond to any questions you or other Members of the Subcommittee 
may have at this time. 

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

For questions regarding this testimony, please contact Jess T. Ford at 
(202) 512-4128 or Individuals making key contributions 
to this testimony include Anthony Moran, Assistant Director; Miriam 
Carroll Fenton; Joseph Carney; Jonathan Fremont; and Antoine Clark. 

[End of section] 


[1] GAO, Department of State: Diplomatic Security's Recent Growth 
Warrants Strategic Review, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 12, 

[2] We visited 15 diplomatic posts in nine countries: Egypt (Cairo and 
Alexandria), Germany (Frankfurt), India (New Delhi and Mumbai), Mexico 
(Mexico City, Tijuana, and Merida), Tunisia (Tunis), Turkey (Ankara and 
Istanbul), Saudi Arabia (Riyadh and Jeddah), the Philippines (Manila), 
and Indonesia (Jakarta). We also conducted video-teleconferences with 
Diplomatic Security officials in 3 additional posts: Iraq (Baghdad), 
Afghanistan (Kabul), and Pakistan (Islamabad). 

[3] GAO, Iraq: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 24, 

[4] Houston field office planned to use an increased number of agents 
scheduled to arrive in early 2009 to address the backlog of cases. 

[5] Currently, the MSD Office has two teams posted in Peshawar, 
Pakistan, and one in Iraq supplementing security. The office must use 
its four remaining teams to (1) prepare to relieve one of the sitting 
teams in Peshawar and Baghdad and (2) cover the other parts of its 

[6] GAO, Rebuilding Iraq: DOD and State Department Have Improved 
Oversight and Coordination of Private Security Contractors in Iraq, but 
Further Actions Are Needed to Sustain Improvements. [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Jul. 31, 

[7] For GAO's review of the State's Compound Security Upgrade Program, 
see GAO, Embassy Security: Upgrades Have Enhanced Security, but Site 
Conditions Prevent Full Adherence to Standards, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 18, 

[8] For GAO's review of language training at State, see GAO, Department 
of State: Comprehensive Plan Needed to Address Persistent Foreign 
Language Shortfalls, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 17, 

[9] For GAO's review on experience gaps at hardship posts, see GAO, 
Department of State: Additional Steps Needed to Address Continuing 
Staffing and Experience Gaps at Hardship Posts,[hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 17, 

[10] GPRA requires that a strategic plan contain six elements. The six 
elements are: (1) Mission Statement, (2) General (also known as 
Strategic or Long-Term) Goals and Objectives, (3) Approaches or 
Strategies to Achieve Goals and Objectives, (4) Relationship between 
General Goals and Annual Goals, (5) External Factors, and (6) Program 
Evaluations. The committee report accompanying GPRA also states that a 
multiyear strategic plan should articulate the fundamental mission of 
an organization and lay out its long-term general goals for 
implementing that mission, including the resources needed to reach 
these goals. GAO has further suggested that addressing management 
challenges, in addition to other factors, would enhance the usefulness 
of agencies' strategic plans. 

[11] Bureau strategic plans were previously called bureau performance 
plans. State changed the name of these documents in fiscal year 2009. 

[End of section] 

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