Over 20 U.S. diplomats and family members in Cuba have suffered injuries—such as brain damage—believed to be connected to unexplained incidents.
After incidents involving serious injury, the State Department is generally required to assess State's response and improve security.
However, State’s office responsible for convening that review learned of the incidents in Cuba from media reports, months later. This testimony is based on a report that recommended improving internal communication about such incidents.
This testimony also outlines challenges we identified related to responding to these incidents.
State’s Office Responsible for the Accountability Review Board Process Became Aware of Incidents in Cuba after Media Reports in August 2017
Timeline leading to State Department's responsible office becoming aware of the incidents in Cuba.
What GAO Found
The Department of State's (State) Accountability Review Board (ARB) policy does not ensure that the responsible office—State's Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (M/PRI)—is made aware of incidents that may meet the ARB statute criteria, such as those that occurred in Cuba and were associated with injuries to U.S. personnel. According to State policy, as soon as M/PRI becomes aware of potentially qualifying incidents, M/PRI will start the process for considering whether the incident warrants an ARB. M/PRI relies on informal communication to identify potentially qualifying incidents to begin the vetting process because State does not have a policy, procedure, or process for internal communication of such incidents to M/PRI, according to State officials and GAO analysis. As illustrated in the figure below, other State entities began responding to the incidents in early 2017, but M/PRI was not made aware of the incidents until mid-August 2017, when a former M/PRI official contacted the office after seeing media reports. If M/PRI is not aware of incidents, it cannot initiate State's ARB incident vetting process. This situation puts State at risk of not meeting statutory time frames for convening an ARB and could result in State being less able to improve security programs and practices at other U.S. diplomatic posts. Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government call for internal communication to achieve the entity's objectives and note that management should document responsibilities through policy.
State's Office Responsible for the ARB Process Became Aware of Incidents in Cuba after Media Reports in August 2017
Note: According to the Department of State's (State) Foreign Affairs Manual, the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation is responsible for leading the incident vetting process to determine whether incidents meet Accountability Review Board (ARB) statute criteria.
Why GAO Did This Study
This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's July 2018 report, entitled Reported Injuries to U.S. Personnel in Cuba: State Should Revise Policies to Ensure Appropriate Internal Communication of Relevant Incidents (GAO-18-615).
For more information, contact Brian M. Mazanec at (202) 512-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.