State Department Not Consistent in Bolstering Embassy Security

A Bahraini police officer sits in a police car at a new checkpoint near the U.S. Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, in 2013. A Bahraini police officer sits in a police car at a new checkpoint near the U.S. Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, in 2013. Hasan Jamali/AP

The State Department’s post-Benghazi efforts to reinforce physical security at overseas facilities suffer from inconsistent tracking of data and inadequate risk management, the Government Accountability Office reported Thursday.

In refurbishing embassies, consulates and warehouses in dangerous regions, the department is failing to document instances in which it grants waivers or exceptions to security standards.

“State's risk management activities do not operate as a continuous process or continually incorporate new information,” auditors wrote in the unclassified version of a classified report to leaders of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees. “State does not use all available information when establishing threat levels at posts, such as when posts find it necessary to implement measures that exceed security standards. State also lacks processes to re-evaluate the risk to interim and temporary facilities that have been in use longer than anticipated.”

In a 68-page report complete with diagrams, GAO reported on 10 site visits at high-threat locations over the past year (plus interviews with staff at six more) that revealed the absence of waiver documentation for embassy or consulate compound facilities that did not meet the requirements for hardened building exteriors, co-locations or setbacks. 

State maintains some 1,600 work facilities, which includes offices and warehouses, at 275 diplomatic posts, some of which were built before security standards implemented in 1991.

“State assesses six types of threats, such as terrorism, and assigns threat levels, which correspond to physical security standards at each overseas post,” auditors wrote. “However, GAO found several inconsistencies in terminology used to categorize properties and within the property inventory database used to track them, raising questions about the reliability of the data.”

Auditors said State’s approach left it unclear what standards apply to some types of facilities. In some cases, the department took eight years to update standards for such security tools as anti-ram perimeters, GAO said. 

GAO made 13 recommendations to improve tracking and harmonization of data to achieve greater accuracy and currency. State officials reading a draft of the report generally agreed.

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
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.