Almost two years after the Benghazi terrorist attack, lawmakers are taking their investigation to a new front: architecture.
Lawmakers suggested Thursday that the State Department is trading safety overseas for, as Republican Rep. Darrell Issa said, “pretty buildings.”
The State Department rolled out the “design excellence” plan for building overseas facilities under President Obama. The guidelines were aimed at designing buildings that better represent U.S. values, but at a lower cost.
Lawmakers have honed in on diplomatic security since the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans: Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, U.S. Foreign Service Information Officer Sean Smith, and embassy security personnel Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
And the State Department has upped its budget request, asking Congress for $4.6 billion to boost security at its embassies and consulates as part of its fiscal year 2015 budget request. That’s roughly $600 million more than $4 million the administration requested for security upgrades last year.
The money is being used to fund additional security staff, upgrades to infrastructure, and funding for new embassies or consulate compounds. The department has started construction on embassies in the Netherlands, Suriname, and Mauritania, so far this year.
But with some projects delayed and over budget, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee worry that the new design process endangers U.S. personnel overseas and eats up the department’s budget.
“I think the consequence is that it will cost more. I think the other consequence is we’re going to have more people in harm’s way,” said Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
Lydia Muniz, the director for the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations, said that by using “design excellence” guidelines, the department will be able to shorten construction times, potentially save money, and still meet security requirements.
“Every new design and construction project that OBO undertakes both must and will meet the security and life-safety standards required by law,” she said. ” … We are dedicated to meeting all the security requirements that [diplomatic security] establishes.”
But Chaffetz referred to a report by Grant Green, who testified before the committee, which found that delays would leave “more personnel exposed in inadequate facilities for longer periods of time” without any cost benefit for using the new design standards.
“When we interviewed people who were worried about security “¦ [they] felt very strongly that the pendulum had shifted very strongly from security to design,” Green, the former under secretary for management at the State department, told lawmakers.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee’s ranking member, said it was hard to fully understand any merits or drawbacks of the new design plan because no finished embassy has been completely built using the “design excellence” plan.
“As we evaluate the merits and drawbacks of this new effort, we must keep one goal at the top of our list — the security of our diplomatic officials serving overseas,” he said.
House members also questioned if pushing to build embassies in more urban locations left U.S. personnel more open to attack, versus building in a remote location.
The hearing comes after a report late last month raised questions about gaps in security at U.S. embassies and consulates.
“State lacks a process for reassessing standards against evolving threats and risks,” the Government Accountability Office found, including an inability to incorporate new information when making decisions about the level of threats at a location.
Congressional reports have criticized — if not outright blamed — the department for its lack of responsiveness in the 2012 attack.
“The failures of Benghazi can be summed up this way: The Americans serving in Libya were vulnerable; the State Department knew they were vulnerable; and no one in the administration really did anything about it,” according to a 2014 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
What We're Following See More »
Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."