Bureau charged with securing diplomats in Iraq is not yet up for the task

When the U.S. military leaves Iraq at the end of the year, it will be up to the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security to protect the 17,000 contractors and diplomats still stationed at 15 sites around the country.

The bureau that currently employs 34,000 people and is responsible for hundreds of State facilities in the United States and diplomatic missions abroad will have to take on tasks it previously had no experience with, such as recovering downed aircraft, clearing improvised explosive devices, and defending U.S. posts against rocket and mortar attacks.

Although Diplomatic Security plans to rely on Iraqi forces and police to help handle the added responsibility, the bureau is a long way from being prepared for its new job, observers warn.

"As we deploy more civilian federal employees to support democratic reform and self-governance in Iraq, Afghanistan and other high-threat areas, it is critical that Diplomatic Security have the training, resources and support needed to protect them," Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, said Wednesday at a subcommittee hearing.

Diplomatic Security was already expected to provide threat awareness training for all employees in high- and critical-threat posts. The bureau's new Iraq assignment means a fivefold increase in the number of employees requiring such training in the coming year.

A Government Accountability Office report, requested by Akaka and released at the hearing, recommended the bureau improve its training practices by:

  • Obtaining participant evaluations of all training efforts,
  • Improving the process that tracks student progress and completion of training, and
  • Developing a plan to increase the number of posts for which foreign affairs counter threat training is required.

State agreed to all the recommendations.

Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, also agreed with the recommendations in the report, but raised additional questions about the broader scope of the transition into Iraq, asking how diplomats will be able to do their jobs safely while questions of security hang in the air.

"There is an inherent conflict between assuring real security, particularly in war zones, and the ability of diplomats and civilians to do their jobs effectively," Johnson said in her testimony. "To find the right balance between the two imperatives is difficult."

Other major concerns came up at the hearing, including how Diplomatic Security would operate if severe budget cuts were made, how it will overcome inadequate training facilities, and how the bureau supports employees and their families and how it would treat them for possible post-traumatic stress disorder.

Currently, the bureau leases and rents 16 different facilities that are not built specifically for its training needs, which causes delays.

Eric Boswell, assistant secretary of State, conceded the lack of a permanent facility is detrimental to training efforts, but said Diplomatic Security currently doesn't have a choice, while the bureau looks at potential sites.

"We'll have to continue to do what we're doing and make do with what we've got," he said at the hearing.

Responding to long-standing charges that Diplomatic Security's lack of strategic planning affects operations, Boswell said planning is not a main weakness, highlighting the bureau's experience protecting the embassy in Iraq for more than a year -- since combat operations ceased.

"For Iraq, we have engaged in a marathon of planning," he said. "This is the most complex planning undertaken by the State Department, and possibly the most complicated for civilian government."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.