(CNSNews.com) -- The State Department did not conduct a strategic review of its Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which deals with the safety and security of U.S. embassies and personnel overseas, as recommended by the General Accountability Office (GAO) in late 2009, and has not conducted such a review up to this day, testified a GAO official before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday.
The State Department "hasn't fully implemented our recommendation to conduct a strategic review of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to ensure that it's missions and activities address the department's priority needs, as well as the challenges we identified in our work," Michael J. Courts, acting director of International Affairs and Trade at the GAO, told the committee.
Courts also said, "My final point is that Diplomatic Security’s tremendous growth has been more reactive than strategic. While State’s strategic plan identifies some security priorities and goals, it doesn’t fully implement our recommendation to identify the resources needed to meet those goals, or address the management challenges we identified in our work."
"In summary, Diplomatic Security’s mission and resources have grown tremendously over the past decade," said Courts. "Despite these increased resources, the Bureau faces a number of operational challenges."
Courts was called in to testify for the first part of a hearing by the committee entitled, “Benghazi and Beyond: What Went Wrong on September 11, 2012 and How to Prevent it from Happening at other Frontline Posts, Part I.”
On Sept. 11, 2012, terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The fatal attack currently is being investigated by committees in the House and Senate, as well as by the State Department and the FBI.
Courts based his testimony on the GAO’s November 2009 report “State Department: Diplomatic Security’s Recent Growth Warrants Strategic Review.”
As that report explains, the mission of the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security is “to ensure a safe environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, involves activities such as the protection of people, information, and property overseas, and dignitary protection and passport and visa fraud investigations domestically. These activities have grown since 1998 in reaction to a number of security incidents.”
On Thursday, Courts made clear that GAO did not conduct an analysis of security at the Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, but rather examined U.S. diplomatic posts as a whole.
“With respect to Benghazi, GAO did not have any information on the specific security arrangements at the Consulate in Benghazi and hopefully the ongoing investigations by State, the FBI and others, and also the result of these congressional hearings will help us understand what happened there and what lessons can be drawn there,” Courts said.
The GAO began its diplomatic security audit in September 2008 and issued its findings to the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia on Nov. 12, 2009, about 11 months into the first year of the Obama administration.
In the report, the GAO pointed out that the State Department’s diplomatic security budget increased from approximately $200 million in 1998 to $1.8 billion in 2008, and between 1998 and 2009 the Diplomatic Security’s workforce doubled.
However, security-staffing shortages occurred at U.S. diplomatic posts in dangerous areas of the world such as Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen, according to the report.
Those shortages occurred largely because of the high degree of security needed in global hotspots, combined with long training programs that security personnel needed to undergo before deployment.
The GAO also reported that 53 percent of Regional Security Officers at Diplomatic Posts did not speak or read foreign languages as required for their positions.
Other security deficiencies included but were not limited to: lack of experience among 34 percent of security personnel; inadequate buildings; and diplomatic tension that resulted in host countries from too much security at facilities.
Between 1998 and 2009, there were 39 attacks on U.S. embassies, consulates or official personnel, according to the report.
In the November 2009 GAO report, in the section "Recommendations for Executive Action," it states: "We recommend that the Secretary of State -- as part of the QDDR [Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review] or as a separate initiative -- conduct a strategic review of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to ensure that its missions and activities address the department's priority needs."
It continues: “This review should also address key human capital and operational challenges faced by Diplomatic Security, such as
• operating domestic and international activities with adequate staff;
• providing security for facilities that do not meet all security standards;
• staffing foreign missions with officials who have appropriate language skills;
• operating programs with experienced staff, at the commensurate grade levels; and
• balancing security needs with State’s need to conduct its diplomatic mission.”
The GAO concludes the November 2009 report stating, "We provided a draft of this report to State for review and comment. State agreed with the report's recommendation and noted that, although it is currently not planning to perform a strategic review of the full Diplomatic Security mission and capabilities of the QDDR, the Under Secretary for Management and the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security are completely committed to ensuring that Diplomatic Security's mission will benefit from this initiative."
As Courts repeated in his Thursday testimony, “We have subsequently learned that State has not yet conducted the strategic review as recommended."