Lawmakers split sharply along partisan lines Thursday on the need for Congress to boost funding for diplomatic security in the wake of the September attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya.
State Department officials testified Thursday in the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees that they would be seeking increased funding to cover personnel and construction costs to improve security, per the recommendations of an independent review of the Benghazi attack released publicly on Tuesday night.
The department has already sent a request to Congress asking to reprogram $1.4 billion for fiscal 2013 to cover the costs of additional Marine deployments to overseas posts determined to be high risk; increases in diplomatic security personnel by 5 percent; and physical security upgrades — all responses to the assault in Benghazi, which killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., said at the hearing that “there’s no question in my mind that we need additional resources in a significant way.”
“Times are changing” and foreign missions’ “needs are changing,” observed Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. “And as much as people like to say, ‘Well, it’s not the money,’ it’s the money.”
Indeed, among the 29 recommendations from the review panel — known formally as the Accountability Review Board — was one calling for Congress to restore to “full capacity” a State Department program started in 1999 to upgrade the security of diplomatic facilities around the world. The review board’s report says the Capital Security Cost Sharing Program, as it is called, should be funded at “approximately $2.2 billion in fiscal year 2015, including an up-to 10-year program addressing that need, prioritized for construction of new facilities in high-risk, high-threat areas.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has promised to implement every one of the recommendations made by the panel, which was appointed by the State Department and headed up by retired diplomat Thomas R. Pickering and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.
Focus on Additional Money
But Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., expressed reservations Thursday about all the talk of new funding.
“I’m dismayed that this hearing has already centered on additional money,” Corker said. “We have no idea whether the State Department is using its money wisely or not.”
Corker, who is expected to become the ranking Republican on the committee next year, said that the report of the Accountability Review Board makes clear that the State Department is not using its existing resources efficiently and not doing a good job prioritizing needs.
Given the deteriorating security situation in Eastern Libya over the summer, “I don’t understand why you didn’t send a notification up ... asking to shift funds for security to Benghazi,” he said.
And he noted that the State Department could have kept a team of 16 military personnel in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, paid for by the Pentagon, but rejected a request to extend their stay shortly before the attacks took place.
“This has nothing to do with money,” Corker said.
House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., echoed those sentiments in the House’s hearing on the ARB report Thursday afternoon.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.