GAO: FASTC Fort Pickett Fully Meets Requirements, FLETC Glynco, Not Really

Posted: 3:25 am EDT

We have previously written about the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) project that has been snared in a tug of war in Congress.

On September 9, the Government Accountability Office finally released its review of the project. Concerned by the considerable variation in the cost estimates for FASTC and FLETC, members of Congress requested that GAO provide further information on both the requirements and costs of DS training. GAO examined (1) key site requirements critical to the provision of DS training and the extent to which the FASTC and FLETC proposals meet these requirements and (2) the estimated capital and recurring costs of these proposals and the extent to which the capital cost estimates conform to leading practices for reliable cost estimates. The GAO report was publicly released on September 16.

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via GAO

See Figure 3: Key Events in Plans to Consolidate Bureau of Diplomatic Security Training (pdf)

Excerpt below:

State has been in the process of looking for a site suitable for its DS training facility for more than a decade. In 2011, State and the General Services Administration (GSA) identified Fort Pickett near Blackstone, Virginia, as the preferred site for the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC). The initial 2012 master plan for FASTC would have consolidated hard- and soft-skills training at Fort Pickett for an estimated cost of $925 million. In March 2013, State reduced the scope of FASTC to exclude facilities for soft-skills training and life support functions, such as dormitories and a cafeteria, ultimately decreasing the estimated cost of the current proposal to $413 million. Also in 2013, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directed State to work with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assess the viability of using the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia, to accommodate DS’s training. In November 2013, FLETC submitted a business case to OMB indicating that it could meet DS’s requirements, including soft-skills training, for an estimated cost of $272 million. Following this assessment, DS, FLETC, and OMB could not agree on a path forward.

In April 2014, the administration reaffirmed the selection of Fort Pickett for FASTC, and State and GSA began implementing their plan to construct FASTC. State and GSA have obligated about $71 million to date toward FASTC at Fort Pickett.2 In May 2015, GSA purchased land and, in June 2015, awarded a contract for the initial phase of construction of FASTC.
[W]e analyzed four of DS’s requirements that we determined were critical in the selection of a site for DS’s training facility and found that Fort Pickett fully met all four while FLETC did not fully meet any.7 First, building FASTC at Fort Pickett would enable DS to consolidate at one location 10 of the 12 widely scattered hard-skills training venues it is currently using.8 FLETC can accommodate many of these venues on its Glynco campus but would have to conduct some exercises at a Marine Corps training facility about 30 miles away. Second, we found that Fort Pickett is available for nighttime training, which DS conducts on about 190 days per year, while at FLETC there may be some limitations on nighttime training. We also determined that the Fort Pickett site held advantages in terms of proximity to Washington, D.C., and exclusivity of use, both of which were requirements highlighted in reports stemming from the Benghazi ARB.

We found that neither the FASTC nor the FLETC estimate for capital costs fully meets best practices. The FASTC estimate fully or substantially meets three of the four characteristics—comprehensive, well documented, and accurate—and partially meets one characteristic of reliable cost estimates— credible; the FLETC estimate partially or minimally meets all four characteristics.10 FLETC officials noted that their estimate was prepared in a short period of time based on incomplete information regarding State’s requirements; more complete information would have enabled them to develop a more comprehensive estimate. See enclosure V for more detail on our assessment. Our assessment of the reliability of these cost estimates focused on the processes used to develop the estimates rather than estimates themselves, enabling us to make a more direct comparison of their reliability.

In addition to capital costs for acquisition and construction of a DS training center, the government will incur costs of sending students to training. These recurring student costs include travel, lodging, meals and incidental expenses, and compensation for time spent traveling. We projected these costs over 10, 25, and 50 years in three different scenarios for both the FASTC and FLETC proposals. We estimate that the costs of sending students to FASTC over 10 years will be $43 million to $121 million less, in net present value, than sending students to FLETC.11 The difference in student costs between FASTC and FLETC increases over time, from between $122 million and $323 million less for FASTC after 25 years, to between $309 and $736 million after 50 years. See enclosure III for further details on the assumptions used in each of these scenarios.

Click on 672362 to read the full report (38 pages – pdf).

Maybe this is the end of it and the project at Fort Pickett can finally go forward?  It is likely that there will be at least one more hearing on this, one congressional committee (was that HOGR?) promised a hearings once the GAO report is completed.


560 Ex-Peace Corps Volunteers Write to Secretary Kerry Urging Suspension of Aid to Dominican Republic

Posted: 3:08 am EDT


Nearly 600 former Peace Corps volunteers and three PC country directors who served in the Dominican Republic wrote an open letter to Secretary Kerry urging the suspension of aid to the Dominican Republic due to its treatment of Dominicans of Haitian descent:

It is due to our deep and abiding concern for the most vulnerable members of Dominican society that we are writing to you about the crisis of statelessness among Dominicans of Haitian descent. We urge you to end U.S. involvement in the violation of their human rights: enforce the Leahy Amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act and annual Department of Defense appropriations.

The Leahy laws state that no U.S. assistance shall be furnished to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if there is credible information that such a unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. Given the Dominican government’s disregard for international law with respect to the status of its citizens of Haitian descent; the violent track record of Dominican security forces receiving funding and training from the United States; and the Dominican Armed Forces’ readiness to execute a potentially massive campaign of rights-violating expulsions, we ask that the United States suspend its military aid to the Dominican government.

In 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court i​ssued a ruling (168-13) that effectively stripped hundreds of thousands of people, primarily those of Haitian descent, of their Dominican citizenship. This ruling stands in direct contravention of international human rights law—specifically the A​merican Convention on Human Rights,​which the Dominican government r​atified in 1978. This convention enshrines the right to a nationality and prohibits its arbitrary deprivation. Many Dominicans of Haitian ancestry, including those whose families have resided in the

Dominican Republic for generations, were rendered stateless and face forcible deportation to a country where many have no ties whatsoever. A subsequent Dominican law (1​69-14)​, which addressed the court’s ruling, further entrenched the negation of the right to citizenship on the basis of one’s place of birth, and retroactively conferred citizenship on the basis of the immigration status of one’s parents.

The volunteers’ letter specifically cites the security forces that “appear poised to carry out mass deportations within the country, including the U​.S.-trained border patrol agency, CESFRONT, which has r​eceived more than $17.5 million in assistance from the United States since 2013.”

“If the United States is serious about protecting universally recognized human rights, we must no longer abet such actions in the Dominican Republic, much less be complicit in an impending intensification of human rights abuses. In our view, it appears impossible for the Dominican government to move forward with the implementation of its human rights-violating, internationally condemned citizenship laws without involving its security forces in yet more widespread and severe abuses.”

A small group representing the volunteers has requested a meeting with Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson.







Burn Bag: Unclear on the concept?

Via Burn Bag:

During Ramadan our FSNs fast during the day. In an effort to build unity, our political section is holding its second offsite in 6 months for 7 Americans and 10 FSNs. They are paying a speaker over a thousand dollars to lecture on diversity in the workplace. Coffee breaks and a fancy lunch will be catered for the Americans. 

via Doctor Who Tumblr

via Doctor Who Tumblr


FSNs – Foreign Service Nationals also known as Locally Employed Staff (LES).

A Look at the DOS Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Fort Pickett and Nottoway County

Posted: 12:50 am EDT


Below is excerpted from the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Fort Pickett and Nottoway County.

In April 2014, the earlier DOS selection of the proposed site for FASTC at Fort Pickett and Nottoway County was reaffirmed at a reduced scope of requirements. The project would proceed as a hard skills only facility, including driving tracks, mock urban environment, explosives training, and firearms training. The reduced scope included the elimination of the dormitories and dining facilities, reducing the size of certain training venues, and the removal of soft skills training. According to the EIS, an extensive site search process evaluated more than 70 potential sites in proximity to the Washington, D.C. area including federal facilities, military bases and private properties.

Fort Pickett was established in 1942 as a World War II training camp. Fort Pickett has been primarily used to provide training facilities, maneuver training areas including live fire artillery ranges, installation operations, and mobilization support for U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard units, as well as all branches of the U.S. military. Fort Pickett encompasses approximately 45,148 acres, of which 45,008 were identified as no longer required by the U.S. Army by the 1995 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. The remaining 140 acres were identified as a U.S. Army Reserve enclave. VaARNG has operational control over approximately 42,000 acres of Fort Pickett through a 1997 facility land use agreement. Fort Pickett is currently used as a Maneuver Training Center. Approximately 2,950 acres were not needed for military uses and were deeded to Nottoway County in 2000 for use in the economic development activities of the LRA (Schnabel Engineering 2010).

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click image for larger view


As recently as several days ago, the covered this project’s struggle in Congress, Two years after Benghazi, State battles lawmakers over training site for agents.

According to the State Department, the FASTC would fill a critical need, identified in the 2008 report to the U.S. Congress and re-affirmed by two independent panels in 2013, for a consolidated security training facility.

Below is a quick chronology of the project:

  • July 2011 -Selected Fort Pickett and began Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Master Planning efforts
  • October 2012 –Released Draft EIS for full scope FASTC
  • December 2012 –Completed Master Plan for full scope FASTC
  • February 2013 –DOS decision to reduce scope of FASTC to hard skills only
  • Early 2013 –Project activities placed on hold while additional due diligence conducted
  • April 2014 –Administration decision to move forward at Fort Pickett

Here are the components of the FASTC as excerpted from the Final EIS:

High Speed Driving Track Area

The High Speed Driving Track Area would be used for driver training in various conditions including normal driving, emergency driving, and flooded conditions. Training would consist of 810 drive track operations per day with cars traveling up to 100 miles per hour and would include approximately 600 simulator (flash bang pyrotechnics) operations annually. The following facilities along with associated surface parking would comprise this area:

D02 High Speed Anti-Terrorism Driving Course – 550-acre facility consisting of three separate tracks, two lanes wide, ranging in length from 1.6 to 2 miles long. The tracks would be closed loops with a variety of turns and elevation changes to replicate different driving conditions. The course would include skid pads and ram pads.

D02a, b, c Classroom Buildings – Each of the three High Speed Driving Tracks would include a 30- person classroom building, support facilities, and a 15-space parking area for staff. Classrooms would be located close to the tracks and include covered bleacher seating.

Off-Road/Unimproved Driving Track Area

The off-road/unimproved driving tracks would be used for training drivers in off-road and unimproved road conditions. Driver training would consist of 24 operations per day (7 a.m. to 10 p.m.) plus 8 operations during the nighttime hours (10 p.m. to 7 a.m.). The Off-Road/Unimproved Driving Track Area would consist of unpaved tracks through forested areas and classroom buildings, including: an Unimproved Road Driving Course, an Off-Road Driving Course and two classrooms.

Mock Urban Training Environment

The Mock Urban Training Environment area would consist of three distinct, but interrelated, simulated urban training environments that would provide scenarios for students training for protecting humans transitioning between vehicles and buildings in a setting similar to a typical high-density urban environment. The three areas, Mock Urban Driving Course (D03), Explosives Simulation Alley (E04), and Mock Urban Tactical Training Area (T02), would be designed to function separately or together for maximum flexibility with the courses.

This will include a Mock Embassy, a compound of buildings that would be modeled on the U.S. Army’s Military Operations on Urban Terrain facilities. Buildings would model banks, restaurants, theaters, and residences. Also included is a Smoke House, a three-story, fabricated building configured as a training facility specifically fabricated and configured for training non-firefighting personnel on procedures for safe escape and evacuation of a building, as well as limited entry, search, and rescue training for law enforcement and rescue personnel. Students will practice different exercises to gain confidence in methods of escapement from a burning building.

Explosives Training Environment

The Explosives Training Environment would consist of an Explosives Demonstration Range (E02), Post-Blast Training Range (E03), and Explosives Breaching Range (E05).

Firearms Training Environment

Students would train in the Firearms Training Environment in the use of firearms including pistols, rifles, machine guns, and shotguns. Total estimated activity at all the firing ranges would be more than 6 million rounds annually, normally between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Firing range buildings would be designed to ensure acceptable noise levels in adjacent areas inside and outside of the buildings.

Service Area

The Service Area would consist of support facilities for centralized delivery, storage, and maintenance needs related to internal infrastructure and operations throughout FASTC.

Driver Training Maintenance Area

The Driver Training Maintenance Area would provide centralized vehicle storage and maintenance facilities supporting all of the driver training activities for FASTC.

Ammunition Supply Point

The Ammunition Supply Point (ASP) would provide storage for ammunition and explosives used at the Explosives Training Environment, Firearms Training Environment, High Speed Driving Tracks, and Mock Urban Training Environment.

Proposed Timeframe for Development of FASTC

Due to the substantial size of the entire project, FASTC would be designed in five separate packages and constructed in three to five phases, depending on funding, over a five-year period. Package 1 would include venues essential to commence operation of the FASTC training program and construction would begin in the summer of 2015, prior to the expiration of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding in September 2015. Package 1 would consist of construction activities that completely avoid impacts to regulated wetland areas and could be constructed prior to completion of the ongoing wetland permitting process. Training venues would begin to operate in 2016 with approximately 10% of training operations underway. Construction of Packages 2 and 3 are estimated to begin in the fall/winter of 2015/2016 and Packages 4 and 5 are estimated to begin in the fall/winter of 2016/2017. By 2018, all training venues fundamental to the FASTC training program would be in place, and 90% of the training program would be operational. By 2020, 100% of training would be operational. Phasing schedules continue to evolve and would ultimately depend on timeframes for design and appropriated funding from Congress, but they are estimated in this Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for purposes of analysis.

Proposed FASTC Student and Staff

During the first year of training operations in 2016, average attendance at the facility would be approximately 60 students daily, and approximately 1,000 students would be trained annually. Sixty percent of the training would occur between May and September. The number of students would increase as FASTC becomes fully operational. Between 2018 and 2020, at full operation, average daily attendance would increase to 600 students, and approximately 9,200 students would be trained annually. The average training duration would be approximately 14 days.

Concurrent with the increase in the number of students, the number of staff would also be anticipated to increase over the five-year construction period. Beginning in 2016, the transfer of the Security and Law Enforcement Training Division with limited administrative support and tactical training support from other facilities would occur. With anticipated movement attrition in present staff levels, plus the need for additional facility support staff, DOS estimates that approximately 21 already filled positions would be relocated in 2016. Approximately 12 positions, including information technology specialists, contract  and finance specialists, budget officers, program officers, and security would be filled locally. Service contractors would provide buildings, roads and grounds maintenance, housekeeping, and repair.

Between 2017 and 2020, an additional 191 staff would relocate and 115 employees would be hired for a total staff of 339. Some transferred employees would include administrative and technical support, and instructional systems management staff. Other employees, such as physical fitness, information technology, instructors, and maintenance would be hired locally.


Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) For Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (Fort Pickett) Now Available

Posted: 11:05 am EDT


The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Security Training Center(FASTC) in Nottoway County, Virginia is now available.

As required under the National Environmental Policy Act, GSA has prepared and filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed development of a U.S. Department of State (DOS), Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Nottoway County, Virginia. GSA is the lead agency; cooperating agencies are DOS, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, EPA, and National Guard Bureau. The Final EIS also documents compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966.

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Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) – Fort Pickett

The purpose of the proposed FASTC site in Nottoway County is to consolidate existing dispersed “hard skills” security training functions to provide effective, efficient training specifically designed to enable foreign affairs personnel to operate in today’s perilous and dangerous overseas environment. Hard skills training is practical, hands-on training in firearms, explosives, anti- terrorism driving techniques, defensive tactics, and security operations. Such training improves security and life safety for the protection of U.S. personnel operating abroad. The proposed FASTC would fill a critical need, identified in the 2008 report to the U.S. Congress, for a consolidated training facility. A central facility would improve training efficiency and provide priority access to training venues from which DS may effectively conduct hard skills training to meet the increased demand for well-trained personnel. The proposed FASTC would train 8,000 to 10,000 students annually.

The Final EIS was prepared to evaluate the environmental consequences of site acquisition and development of FASTC on three adjacent land parcels at the Virginia Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett (Fort Pickett) and Nottoway County’s Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA) area in Nottoway County, Virginia.

The proposed site is 1,350 acres with an additional 12 acres for relocation of an existing tank trail and scheduled use of a 19 acre Fort Pickett range. The site is surrounded by compatible land uses within Fort Pickett. The total area of disturbance for construction of driving tracks, mock urban environments, explosives and firearms ranges, and administrative and service areas would be 407 acres. Utilities would be installed or relocated along existing roadways or within areas planned for development.

According to the Federal Register announcement, all efforts and work on the proposed site at Fort Pickett and Nottoway County’s LRA area were put on hold in early 2013 pending additional due diligence and reviews at an existing federal training site in Georgia. As part of this due diligence effort, DOS conducted site visits to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia.

During this time period, DOS also assessed the scope and size of the FASTC project and determined a smaller platform was more fiscally prudent. In April 2014, the earlier DOS selection of the proposed site for FASTC at Fort Pickett and Nottoway County was reaffirmed by the Administration. A Master Plan Update was prepared in 2014 to incorporate the adjustments in the FASTC program.

The Final EIS designates Build Alternative 3 as the Preferred Alternative. Build Alternative 3 would have direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts, but the impacts are reduced as compared with the 2012 build alternatives. Changes between the Supplemental Draft EIS and Final EIS include the results of consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer as required by Section 106 of the NHPA, and updates on consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pertaining to effects on northern long-eared bats under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. Section 7 consultation will be concluded prior to the Record of Decision. The Final EIS also updates the proposed action to support emerging advanced tactical training needs and a change in the availability of existing facilities. The proposed action includes limited use of helicopters in training to approximately one or two days per month and the addition of an Ammunition Supply Point on the proposed site. The Final EIS addresses and responds to agency and public comments on the Supplemental Draft EIS.

Hopefully this means that the Fort Pickett project is on and taxpayers won’t be spending millions of dollars sending thousands of State Department trainees from VA-MD-DC all the way to Georgia as some in Congress would like to do.

-04/24/15   Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)  [13842 Kb]



Burn Bag: Conal Rectification? Dear Consular Affairs, This Sounds Painful

 Via Burn Bag:

 “It’s amazing there hasn’t been a mutiny in the CA training at FSI this year given the behavior of some of the leadership.  There’s a broad consensus that the way they treat officers in training is right out of Full Metal Jacket.  Disparaging, disrespectful, amateurish, and completely undermining of moral[e]. Not to mention doing nothing to advance the goal of training competent, empowered consular officers.  If that’s what CA thinks is what 1CA means I imagine there will be a lot of Consular officers who will be seeking conal rectification….”




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State Department Seeks Contractor For Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions

— Domani Spero


Last month, the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute issued Solicitation #SFSIAQ14Q3002 for a contractor to provide professional training on effective congressional testimony and briefing skills.  The requirement solicitation also includes a requirement for Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions.

Related post: US Embassy Oslo: Clueless on Norway, Murder Boards Next?


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Below is an excerpt from the solicitation posted on fedbiz:

The purpose of this project is to obtain the services of a contractor to deliver interactive, professional training seminars for senior-level officials on effective congressional testimony and briefing skills. There will be one primary product, a two-day course entitled “PT-302 – Communicating with Congress: Briefing and Testifying.” This course targets government professionals at the GS-14/FS-02 level or higher, who will be testifying before Congress or briefing members or staffers. We will offer this course between three to four times per year. There is a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 15 participants per class.

Secondly, LMS [Leadership Management School] will seek the services of a contractor to deliver training on strategies for building effective relationships with members of Congress and their staffers to participants of the Ambassadorial Seminar (PT-120) and other senior-level courses. The Ambassadorial Seminar is offered to Ambassadors-designate (including both career Foreign Service Officers and political appointees) and their spouses. This seminar normally runs two weeks and includes up to, but not limited to, 14 participants.

Lastly, contractor shall submit additional proposals to deliver hour-long, one-on-one simulated congressional hearing sessions with feedback for individuals as preparation for anticipated congressional testimony. These individuals may or may not be graduates of the Ambassadorial seminar, or they may be or may not be other, senior-ranking government officials.

C.4.1. Communicating With Congress: Briefing and Testifying (PT-302)

  • Provide professional services to design and deliver PT-302, Communicating with Congress: Briefing and Testifying, for senior ranking officers drawn from the Foreign Service, Civil Service, and military. It is expected that the first year will include significant course design work, but that option years will not involve major course design.
  • It shall include the following topics presented by individuals with current or recent Capitol Hill experience. Experience within the past two years is highly desirable.
  • Training and skill-building in briefing techniques;
  • Presentations/discussions on congressional committees and the hearing process
  • Presentations/discussions on tips for leveraging State’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs
  • Presentations/discussions on building effective relationships with Congress members and staffers.
  • It shall also include simulated congressional hearings, at which:
    • Each class member will deliver written and oral briefs/testimony before a panel of experts capable of appropriate questioning and criticism;
    • All briefings/testimony and responses to questions are video recorded;
    • Experts critique the individual briefing/testimony and responses to questions.

C.4.2. Ambassadorial Seminar (PT-120)

  • Provide professional services to design and deliver a three-hour training segment on strategies for building effective relationships with members of Congress and their staffers to participants of the Ambassadorial Seminar (PT-120) and other senior-level courses.
  • This shall be delivered via 1-2 presenters with ample time for questions and answers. If contractor provides two presenters, one presenter shall have current or recent experience on Capitol Hill as a member or staffer (experience within the past two years highly desirable), and the second presenter shall have recent senior-level executive branch service with personal experience in developing successful relationships on Capitol Hill, to include effective congressional testimony and briefing experience (experience within the past three years highly desirable). If contractor provides only one presenter, this presenter shall have both current or recent experience on Capitol Hill as a member or staff, and recent senior-level executive branch service with personal experience in developing successful relationships with Capitol Hill.

C.4.3. Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions

  • Provide professional services to deliver hour-long, one-on-one simulated congressional hearing sessions with feedback for individuals as preparation for anticipated congressional testimony. These individuals may or may not be graduates of the Ambassadorial seminar, or they may be or may not be other, senior-ranking government officials.


The solicitation requires that the contractor/s’ professional qualifications include experience delivering training in a federal government context with senior executive participants; professional experience in working with Congressional staffers and members; current or recent Capitol Hill professional experience. Experience within the past two years is also highly desirable.  For presenters in the three-hour and one-hour sessions, qualifications also include prior service as a senior executive in a federal agency with personal experience briefing and testifying to Congress.  But the government also wants contractors with “knowledge of and experience using adult learning principles in the facilitation and delivery of a course” as well as “expertise in experiential learning methodologies and techniques.”

This should help avoid future incidents of trampling through the salad bowl during a confirmation hearing and save us from covering our eyes.



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GAO: State Dept Management of Security Training May Increase Risk to U.S. Personnel

— Domani Spero

The State Department has established a mandatory requirement that specified U.S. executive branch personnel under chief-of-mission authority and on assignments or short-term TDY complete the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) security training before arrival in a high-threat environment.

Who falls under chief-of-mission authority?

Chiefs of mission are the principal officers in charge of U.S. diplomatic missions and certain U.S. offices abroad that the Secretary of State designates as diplomatic in nature. Usually, the U.S. ambassador to a foreign country is the chief of mission in that country. According to the law, the chief of mission’s authority encompasses all employees of U.S. executive branch agencies, excluding personnel under the command of a U.S. area military commander and Voice of America correspondents on official assignment (22 U.S.C. § 3927). According to the President’s letter of instruction to chiefs of mission, members of the staff of an international organization are also excluded from chief
-of-mission authority. The President’s letter of instruction further states that the chief of mission’s security responsibility extends to all government personnel on official duty abroad other than those under the protection of a U.S. area military commander or on the staff of an international organization.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report which examines (1) State and USAID personnel’s compliance with the FACT training requirement and (2) State’s and USAID’s oversight of their personnel’s compliance. GAO also reviewed agencies’ policy guidance; analyzed State and USAID personnel data from March 2013 and training data for 2008 through 2013; reviewed agency documents; and interviewed agency officials in Washington, D.C., and at various overseas locations.

High Threat Countries: 9 to 18

The June 2013 State memorandum identifying the nine additional countries noted that personnel deploying to three additional countries will also be required to complete FACT training but are reportedly exempt from the requirement until further notice. State Diplomatic Security officials informed the GAO that these countries were granted temporary exceptions based on the estimated student training capacity at the facility where FACT training is currently conducted. We know from the report that the number of countries that now requires FACT training increased from 9 to 18, but they are not identified in the GAO report.

“Lower Priority” Security Training for Eligible Family Members

One section of the report notes that according to State officials, of the 22 noncompliant individuals in one country, 18 were State personnel’s employed eligible family members who were required to take the training; State officials explained that these individuals were not aware of the requirement at the time. The officials noted that enrollment of family members in the course is given lower priority than enrollment of direct-hire U.S. government employees but that space is typically available.

Typically, family members shipped to high-threat posts are those who have found employment at post. So they are not just there accompanying their employed spouses for the fun of it, they’re at post to perform the specific jobs they’re hired for. Why the State Department continue to give them “lower priority” in security training is perplexing. You know, the family members employed at post will be riding exactly the same boat the direct-hire government employees will be riding in.

Working Group Reviews

This report includes the State Department’s response to the GAO. A working group under “M” reportedly is mandated to “discover where improvements can be made in notification, enrollment and tracking regarding FACT training.” The group is also “reviewing the conditions under which eligible family members can and should be required to complete FACT training as well as the requirements related to personnel on temporary duty assignment.”

Excerpt below from the public version of a February 2014 report:

Using data from multiple sources, GAO determined that 675 of 708 Department of State (State) personnel and all 143 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) personnel on assignments longer than 6 months (assigned personnel) in the designated high-threat countries on March 31, 2013, were in compliance with the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training requirement. GAO found that the remaining 33 State assigned personnel on such assignments had not complied with the mandatory requirement. For State and USAID personnel on temporary duty of 6 months or less (short-term TDY personnel), GAO was unable to assess compliance because of gaps in State’s data. State does not systematically maintain data on the universe of U.S. personnel on short-term TDY status to designated high-threat countries who were required to complete FACT training. This is because State lacks a mechanism for identifying those who are subject to the training requirement. These data gaps prevent State or an independent reviewer from assessing compliance with the FACT training requirement among short-term TDY personnel. According to Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government , program managers need operating information to determine whether they are meeting compliance requirements.

State’s guidance and management oversight of personnel’s compliance with the FACT training requirement have weaknesses that limit State’s ability to ensure that personnel are prepared for service in designated high-threat countries. These weaknesses include the following:

  • State’s policy and guidance related to FACT training—including its Foreign Affairs Manual , eCountry Clearance instructions for short-term TDY personnel, and guidance on the required frequency of FACT training—are outdated, inconsistent, or unclear. For example, although State informed other agencies of June 2013 policy changes to the FACT training requirement, State had not yet updated its Foreign Affairs Manual to reflect those changes as of January 2014. The changes included an increase in the number of high-threat countries requiring FACT training from 9 to 18.
  • State and USAID do not consistently verify that U.S. personnel complete FACT training before arriving in designated high-threat countries. For example, State does not verify compliance for 4 of the 9 countries for which it required FACT training before June 2013.
  • State does not monitor or evaluate overall levels of compliance with the FACT training requirement.
  • State’s Foreign Affairs Manual notes that it is the responsibility of employees to ensure their own compliance with the FACT training requirement. However, the manual and Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government also note that management is responsible for putting in place adequate controls to help ensure that agency directives are carried out.

The GAO notes that the gaps in State oversight may increase the risk that personnel assigned to high-threat countries do not complete FACT training, potentially placing their own and others’ safety in jeopardy.

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Photo of the Day: Diplomatic Security’s Smoky Scenario Training



U.S. government personnel evacuate a building through a smoky scenario September 9, 2013, at the Diplomatic Security (DS) Interim Training Facility in Summit Point, West Virginia.  All government personnel serving at U.S. embassies or consulates in high-threat regions of the world must undergo DS’s Foreign Affairs Counter Threat training before their deployment. (U.S. Department of State photo)








Ambassador Bleich’s Close Encounter with the Croc Kind in Australia’s Northern Territory

The last time we featured our man in Australia in this blog was in our election night round up last November. (see Election Night 2012 Roundup — What a Party!).  This week, Ambassador Bleich made quite a stir in cyberverse with an FB post on Stopping the Game of Clones timed for the 17th annual UN World Book and Copyright Day. wades in with “Tyrion Lannister would not give a shit” (of course!) in U.S. Ambassador Calls for End to Game of Thrones Torrenting: ‘Tyrion Will Thank You’.  Over in the ambo’s FB page, there is an ongoing vigorous discussion whether it should be called stealing or not. It looks like a bunch of people there are real serious about their GOT.

Anyhow, we thought we’d check what else Ambassador Bleich is doing.  Don’t you think this photo below is just pretty wild?  That’s Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich who posted that “the cage of death is actually pretty fun.” Compared to his Facebook page, this looks almost peaceful, despite that gigantic snout.

Ambassador Bleich in a face-to-face croc encounter from the “Cage of Death” at Crocosaurus Cove, Darwin, Australia (photo via Amb Bleich/FB)

The encounter with the croc kind occurred in Darwin, in the Northern Territory of Australia earlier this week during  a trip to welcome the arrival of  Lima Company 3rd Regiment, 3rd Marine battalion from Hawaii for training in country.

Quick excerpt from Ambassador Bleich’s FB post:

I spent the past several days in the Northern Territory preparing for the next rotation of U.S. Marines to arrive in Darwin to train with their Australian mates. Each time, I come back to Darwin, I’m reminded of the genuine kindness and hospitality of Territorians. Part of the Marines’ reason for training in Darwin is the ability of our combined forces to practice expeditionary exercises in a large uninhabited training area. But a big part of the attraction is about the people. Our Marines feel truly welcome in Darwin. 
By the time I welcomed the Marines onto the tarmac in Darwin last night, I was able to give them three pieces of practical advice: 1) don’t step in any water deeper than your ankle; 2) never pass up a conversation with a Darwinian; and 3) the “cage of death” is actually pretty fun. (See photos!) Welcome Lima Company 3rd Regiment, 3rd Marine. We’re all glad you’re here. 

Read in full here.  Sky News covered the military rotation here: and says that the 200 Marines on training in Darwin is the second rotation in a five year program.  Next year there will be 1100 Marines and  eventually 2500 on six month rotations.