From the 1998 East Africa bombings to the 2012 Benghazi attack, the residences, schools and other overseas locations of US diplomatic personnel have become increasingly subject to vulnerabilities that threaten the safety and security of diplomatic personnel and their families.
In response, the Department of State has enacted a number of security measures over the years to ensure security vulnerabilities at these facilities and locations, which are attractive “soft targets” for terrorists and other malicious actors, are addressed.
However, a recent audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found a large number of residential security surveys are incomplete. Specifically, 17 of the 68 surveys for residences GAO reviewed were untimely or missing important information regarding security measures.
Consequently, GAO’s report stated, the State Department’s "ability to identify and address vulnerabilities or make informed decisions about where to allocate resources for security upgrades is limited.”
Although the department has taken steps to improve residential security standards, the process has not been timely. For example, officials indicated each security update should take 75 days to complete; however, it has taken three years each to complete three updates.
The State Department "is making efforts to improve the timeliness of such updates in response to a prior GAO recommendation.” However, it’s "standards and other security-related guidance for residences have gaps and inconsistencies, complicating posts’ efforts to determine and apply the appropriate security measures and potentially leaving some residences at risk.”
In addition, GAO determined 38 of 68 residences reviewed have not met all applicable security standards, calling into question whether the department has a clear picture of the security vulnerabilities at these facilities.
The department’s limited awareness of security vulnerabilities extends beyond residences to schools and other soft targets as well. GAO said, “Officials at mostof the posts GAO visited were unaware of some guidance and tools for securing schools and other soft targets.”
To improve the department’s ability to track the security standards and threat levels of residences and other soft targets, GAO recommended the department institute procedures to ensure residential security surveys are up-to-date and completed as required.
GAO also recommended that the State Department clarify its standards and security-related guidance for residences, develop procedures to ensure residences either meet standards or have exceptions on file, and take steps to ensure posts are aware of existing guidance and tools regarding the security of schools and other soft targets.
The State Department concurred with GAO’s recommendations.
The GAO audit came a year after the agency issued a similar report finding efforts by the State Department to implement a risk management policy for US overseas work facilities in the wake of the deadly September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya may still be at risk due to gaps in security standards.
Homeland Security Today previously reported that while the State Department had security standards in place for most overseas facilities, GAO determined it “lacks a process for reassessing standards against evolving threats and risks.”
In order to mitigate risk to overseas posts and residential facilities, the department must track information about each facility, assesses threat levels at posts, and develops security standards to ensure all vulnerabilities are identified and sufficiently addressed, GAO’s audit concluded.