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
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: During GAO audit work on examining whether any ATA participants who received training in the United States had made unauthorized departures from that training, in October 2016, GAO questioned the completeness of the ATA participant and course data State provided to us. ATA officials acknowledged weaknesses in their processes to capture course and participant data and, in November 2016, revised their existing standard operating procedures for data collection to more clearly guide staff who enter data into and use the course and participant data systems. In September 2017, we reported that although ATA has revised its data collection procedures with the intent to improve data completeness and accuracy, ATA officials told us that prior standard operating procedures to capture electronic data have not always been followed. For example, they explained that a series of personnel changes involving staff responsible for data entry led to inconsistent implementation of the data collection procedures in place during fiscal years 2012 through 2016. As a result, we recommended that 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. In commenting on the report, State concurred with the recommendation. In January 2018, ATA transmitted to staff a communication emphasizing the importance of implementing these procedures and recirculated a list of Course Closeout Report deliverables that includes items related to the data procedures, including uploading course rosters to the participant data system (STARs) and course data management system (Snapshot).
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
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: In commenting on the report, State concurred with the recommendation. In response, in January 2018, ATA implemented such a process, which includes a new Standard Operating Procedure outlining steps to take to confirm that ATA participants trained in countries other than their own, including the United States, return home after training. The procedures also note that ATA will report to DHS any participants whose return cannot be confirmed and are in apparent visa overstay status. The process includes automated reminders to ATA staff to verify the return of ATA participants who traveled abroad for ATA training, examples of which were provided to GAO. Further, ATA provided example confirmations of the return of participants to their home country following training in the United States and at regional training centers.
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