While Terror Threat Leads to Embassy Closings, US House Provides Sweeping Reform for Safety

ByUSDR.

Last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), passed by voice vote, a “fiscally responsible State Department authorization bill” to improve security at U.S. embassies and diplomatic facilities around the world, H.R. 2848, the “Department of State Operations and Embassy Security Authorization Act for FY2014”

This transpired while many embassies were closed due to a new terrorthreat.

More than a decade has passed since the last State Department authorization was enacted into law in2003.

[A summary of today’s Committee action, including adopted amendments, is available HERE.]

Chairman Royce, who introduced the bill earlier this week, said:  “This legislation provides our diplomats with the tools they need to do their job effectively, and as safely as possible.  I appreciate the collaboration I have had with Ranking Member Engel on this bipartisan bill, important especially in this time of growing threats abroad.  Authorizing these programs will increase the Committee’s oversight ability; it will also improve Committee members’ ability to legislate new programs, saving money, and reforming old ones.   While this bill is fiscally responsible –representing a nearly nine percent overall cut in spending from last year– it fully funds the Administration’s embassy security request.  It also contains important embassy security reforms, in response to the Benghazi attack.  These include requiring that high risk posts be designated, enhanced planning for rapid deployment of military resources in response to a crisis, and funding for more Marine guards at embassy sites.  Very important, the bill contains a provision that will award local security guard contracts on the basis of “best value,” rather than lowest cost.   For our highest-threat posts, we need the highest quality security personnel.  I am very hopeful we that we’ll be able to send it to the Senate and reach agreement to authorize State Department operations, as it shouldbe.”

In order to improve security, H.R. 2848, asamended:

  • authorizes $4.83 billion for embassy security.  This includes $2.65 billion for Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance and $2.18 billion for the Worldwide Security Program.  This embassy security authorization identifies $1.383 billion in capital cost sharing for new facilities where current facilities do not meet security needs; $101 million for facility security upgrades such as blast resistant doors/windows and retrofitting for protection against chemical and biological attacks;
  • requires the State Department to designate a list of high-risk, high-threat posts and mandates working groups to ensure these posts have necessary security measures and funding;
  • directs the State Department and Defense Department to jointly develop enhanced contingency plans for emergency situations, including planning for rapid deployment of military resources;
  • requires a strategic review of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to ensure that its mission and activities are meeting current and projected needs;
  • encourages the Capital Security Cost Sharing Program to prioritize the construction of enhanced facilities and improvement of facilities at high-risk, high-threat posts;
  • allows the State Department to award security contracts for high-risk, high-threat facilities on a “best value” basis rather an on a “lowest cost” basis;
  • improves security for the children and families of U.S. diplomats abroad;
  • requires the State Department to make efforts to reduce the turnover of key personnel, including security providers, at high-risk, high-threat posts;
  • enhances security training requirements for personnel assigned to high-risk, high-threat posts;
  • authorizes funding for 156 additional Marine Corps Security Guards (MSG) at overseas posts and construction of 26 new Marine-operated access and egress points at high-risk, high-threat posts;
  • lowers and clarifies the standard for future Accountability Review Boards to recommend disciplinary action against State Department employees.

H.R. 2848, as amended,also:

  • allows the Secretary of state to suspend without pay a Foreign Service officer credibly accused of a crime;
  • caps the amount of locality pay that Foreign Service Officers are able to receive while stationed overseas.

The bill text and a section-by-section summary for H.R. 2848 (as introduced) are availableHERE.

The Committee will also passed H.R. 419, the Taiwan Policy Act of 2013, which expresses support for Taiwan and strengthens the U.S.-Taiwan relationship politically, economically and through securityassistance.

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