October 08, 2015

Kaine: Three Years After Benghazi Attacks, It’s Time To Build Diplomatic Security Training Facility At Fort Pickett, VA

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a hearing today on the need for a new diplomatic security training facility to better protect U.S. embassy personnel overseas, witnesses from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the State Department testified to the fact that, despite years of delay as a result of Congressional pressure, Fort Pickett in Blackstone, Virginia remains the best site for a new Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC).  Further, a witness from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) testified that the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) fully support the Administration’s decision to consolidate State Department training at Fort Pickett to best prepare its personnel to serve its critical overseas function. 

 “The thing that troubles me the most is the delay,” said Kaine. “This was a project that was identified by State some years ago, as the Chair indicated, the need to have a facility that better trained the State Department personnel and meet the security needs of a more dangerous world.”

As Kaine detailed in the hearing, he and other members of the Virginia delegation have continuously fought back against attempts to derail the construction of a FASTC at Fort Pickett. Nearly five years ago, the State Department and the General Services Administration (GSA) determined Fort Pickett, Virginia to be the best site for a new diplomatic security training facility. Despite the fact that the independent Accountability Review Board convened in the wake of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi strongly recommended the construction of such a facility to prevent future tragedies, a year-long reassessment by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) from January 2013 through April 2014 significantly slowed progress on the project.  After OMB also concluded that Fort Pickett was the best site, Congress forced the GAO to conduct an additional study, further delaying the process by nearly a year.

“I’m just mindful here of time passing,” Kaine continued. “It has been 5 years since the State-GSA process chose Fort Pickett as the site after a multi-year search to get to that decision. It has been 3 years since the attack on Benghazi. Multiple years after money was put into the budget to do this training facility - I just feel a sense of urgency about the need for this training. … These are tough times for the people doing these jobs and I think we need to move with dispatch to make sure the security we provide is as strong as it can be.”

The most recent GAO study released last month concluded that the Fort Pickett site meets all four key requirements for a new facility, while an alternative FLETC site in Glynco, Georgia site meets none. The report also found that the cost of sending embassy personnel to Fort Pickett over 10 years will be between $43 million and $121 million less than sending them to the Georgia site.

“We analyzed four key requirements that we determined to be critical to the selection of the site and found that the FASTC site in Blackstone fully met the requirements while the FLETC site in Glynco did not,” Michael Courts, Director of GAO’s International Affairs and Trade Team stated during the hearing.

Later in the hearing, Kaine shared a letter from the U.S. Marine Corps that stated how “impractical” it would be for Marine units to travel more than 600 miles away from Washington, D.C. to Georgia for joint training with the State Department – one of the key requirements.  Courts later echoed related findings in the GAO report that state that if this facility were located at FLETC, “some of State’s key training partners would choose not to travel to Georgia” and that “an official for Marine Security Guard training confirmed that the cost of traveling to FLETC would be prohibitive.”

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