Senator David Perdue Delivers Opening Statement at Hearing to Examine Diplomatic Security Training Facility Proposals

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator David Perdue (R-GA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, today delivered the following opening statement at the hearing to examine the State Department proposals for a new diplomatic security training facility that is most cost effective for the taxpayers.

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“I’d like to begin by welcoming our witnesses, Assistant Secretary Greg Starr, Director Connie Patrick, and Mr. Michael Courts. Thank you so much for taking the time to come before us today. Hope to bring some clarity to that today as we move in the next few months toward a final adjudication in terms of what is best for our personnel and the taxpayer.

We are here today to discuss the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) report that we have all seen that was requested by Congress, to examine two options for the State Department’s new consolidated diplomatic security training facility.

The tragic events that transpired in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012 remind us that we need to prepare our Foreign Service Officers for the worst, and prepare our diplomatic security agents to take on any challenge while protecting sovereign U.S. soil and valuable American lives.

Our civil servants overseas are operating in an increasingly hostile world. Just this February, State had to evacuate the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a due to increased hostilities there, and there have been others. This is ongoing every month it seems. Our State Department personnel are indeed in very tough situations around the world and we owe them the utmost in protection.

Indeed, protecting Americans abroad is paramount. Our nation must ensure that Americans sent to serve our nation overseas are safe and have the skills they need to protect themselves from any threat.

As Chairman of the State Department Management Subcommittee, and as a member of the Budget Committee, I am also responsible for the accountable spending of taxpayer dollars, as we all are.

Today, we are here to look at the process for building this new Diplomatic Security facility. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the history, I thought I might just go through just a little bit of background. State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) identified the need to consolidate training functions as early as 1993.

State leases and contracts today 11 facilities to provide comprehensive high threat and hard-skills training and then there are 8 other facilities that provide soft-skills training, which a 2011 GAO report has found to be insufficient, ineffective, and that changes needed to happen. So this has been identified for some period of time.

In May 2008, State came up with the concept of the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FAST-C) as we will refer to it in the rest of the conversation today. This program was authorized and appropriated in 2009, when Congress gave State $70 million to identify and procure a permanent site for FAST-C. Over 2 years, State and GSA studied 70 sites and determined that Ft. Pickett in Virginia, was their best option in 2010.

In December 2012, State put forth a full master plan for FAST-C with a price tag under a billion dollars, 900 plus million dollars. In 2013, OMB directed State to consider, as an option, augmenting an existing facility, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center or FLETC, in Brunswick, Georgia, which currently trains over 90 law enforcement and other federal and local agencies with hard- and soft-skills training.

Before we go any further. If this hearing doesn’t do anything else, it confirms that God has sense of humor. The two facilities we are now looking at as the final options are in Virginia, and our ranking member Tim Kaine represents Virginia, and in Georgia, and I represent Georgia along with my senior Senator Johnny Isakson here.

But I want to assure for the record, and everyone here, that we are all about the same objective, and that is this: we want to ensure that our personal are adequately trained to meet the challenges and dangers abroad. That is the objective function.

And, the second thing that we are here to do, as part of our oversight of the State Department, is to make sure that we spend taxpayer money appropriately. That’s it, there’s nothing parochial going on here and I applaud Senator Kaine for the way he has handled this and Senator Isakson in the past as well.

FLETC’s original proposal was $272 million, and State later reduced the scope of their plan—removing soft-skills, cafeterias, housing, medical, and recreational facilities. In the end, we’re looking at reduced-scope proposals with an initial capital cost of $413 million at FAST-C, versus $243 million for augmenting FLETC. Later, we will get into these numbers a little more, I’m just trying to hit the high points here.

Per the request of Congress, the GAO has evaluated these proposals. Unfortunately, we still don’t have a true apples-to-apples comparison as we sit here today and we’ll talk about that more as well.

What we want to get at today is the process by which these decisions have been made—that State went ahead on a major construction project and we’ve invested about $71 million in the Ft. Pickett, Virginia location. This full assessment, while it may end up being the right choice, I would argue isn’t’ a true apples-to-apples comparison against the original scope or against the revised scopes that have been put forward.

Part of our hope today is to make sure that we all agree—or that the State Department will present—what that scope needs to be so that as we look at this outside group that’s doing this new study between now and December we won’t have to revisit this again. There is a delay actually, I think that project has been put on hold as I understand it, until we get this apples-to-apples comparison.

And I applaud the State Department for taking one last look at this to make sure that we spend the money that is absolutely necessary. I just want to make sure again that we reemphasize that this is not a parochial conversation. This is about taxpayer money and the mission that we have with training people.

The review today though is part of a bigger process about how we spend money at the State Department, and it’s not just at training—looking at embassy construction as just one other example that we will eventually get to, there are several recent examples that do raise concerns.

Just this summer, our committee received a notification from State that the new embassy compound in Islamabad, Pakistan—originally estimated at $850 million—is now going to be the estimate overrun is now $87 million.

The one billion dollar embassy in London is now $100 million over budget and it’s not done yet. And, in Papua New Guinea a $50 million estimate, originally, now has turned into a $211 million embassy in Papua.

So it raises questions, as a business guy looking at this, and I know Senator Kaine with his background has looked at these things as well, overruns happen when scopes change, we all understand that, but when you see a continuous pattern it does heighten the need for oversight.”