State Department:

Challenges Facing the Bureau of Diplomatic Security

GAO-10-290T: Published: Dec 9, 2009. Publicly Released: Dec 9, 2009.

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Jess T. Ford
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This testimony discusses 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. The statement today is based on a GAO report that was issued on November 12, 2009. It 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, GAO (1) interviewed numerous officials at Diplomatic Security headquarters, several domestic facilities, and 18 international postings; (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. GAO conducted this performance audit from September 2008 to November 2009, in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that GAO plans and performs the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. GAO believes that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

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.

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