Transcript: Hillary Clinton on the State Department’s chronic funding shortfall

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the State Department’s chronic funding shortfall. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the attacks against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was held on Jan. 23, 2013:

This is a bipartisan problem. Since 2007, the department has consistently requested greater funding for Embassy construction and diplomatic security.

But with the exception of 2010, the Congress has consistently enacted less than requested.

Most notably in 2012 the department received $340 million less than requested – close to 10% less.

Now over the last two years, cuts to the Embassy construction security and maintenance budget was almost 10% of that as well.

Now the ARB – and I would refer to them because they had an independent view of this – has recommended an increase in facilities funding to $2.2 billion per year to restore the construction levels that were called for in the 1998 ARB report.

But I think it’s also fair to make the point the ARB made: Consistent shortfalls have required the government to try to prioritize. And the department has attempted to do that but I do think there became a culture of reaction – as the ARB said “husbanding resources” and trying to figure out how to do as much with as little as possible.

And so although our prioritization was certainly imperfect, the funds provided by Congress were inadequate. So somehow we have to work on both ends of that equation.

Now, what can you do? Well, first of all, we came up with a request to the legislative and budget staffs for transfer authority language, namely taking money we already have in this budget and letting us move it quickly to do what the ARB told us to do: More Marine security guards, more diplomatic security guards, more construction and upgrades.

We were able to get that included in the Senate version of the Sandy supplemental, which passed on Dec. 28. But we were unable to get the language included in the House version.

This is not new money. So first and foremost, I would greatly appreciate this committee weighing in, working with your counterpart in the Senate to give us this transfer authority. Otherwise, we’re going to be behind the curve again.

Secondly, I think it’s very important to change the laws about best value contracting versus lowest price technically qualified. By statute, the State Department local guard contracts in dangerous places like Libya and everywhere else – except Iraq and Afghanistan – must be awarded using a lowest price technically acceptable selection process. We have requested a change in a legislation that would allow us to use some discretion to try to deal with the varieties and vagaries of these local guard forces.

We currently have it, as I said, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan but it’s going to expire. So that’s something else that I would respectfully ask this committee to look into.

And finally…an authorization. You know, working on an authorization. I was on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate. We did an authorization every year no matter what was going on in the world. It was a great organizing tool. It made sure that our defense needs were going to be met.

I believe in the world in which we’re living our diplomacy and development needs are very important but we don’t have the same focus.

And so working with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on an authorization where you can look at everything and you can have subcommittees really delving into all of these different issues.
Coming up with an authorization, I think, would be a great step forward.

The ARB did disagree with that and did find the budget issues were at stake…That’s why you have an independent group like an ARB, that’s why it was created to look at everything.

Congress, that is what the ARB found. They found that there was a culture of husbanding resources, of being quite concerned about responding even on security as important as security is because one never knows what the budget is going to be going forward.

You know, we’ve had some ups and downs budgetary-wise, going back, as I said, to prior administrations. But it is fair to say that many of the professionals in the State Department has gotten used to worrying greatly that they’ll give something to somebody and that will become an expectation that will then have to be taken away, and it did affect the security professionals’ decisions, according to the ARB.

We have been not only reviewing but continuing to implement the recommendations of all the former ARBs. The 18 previous ARBs resulted in 164 recommendations and we have been very clear that the overwhelming majority have been implemented. A handful such recommendations were by their very nature requiring continuous implementation, like what kind of security upgrades or radio communication was necessary. And there were a few that were only partially implemented because of some separate security concerns that were raised. But there was a need for ongoing funding.

You remember that Admiral Crowe said we wanted $2.2 billion for building embassies. We had a number of embassies that was built in those early years thanks to your legislation, then it petered off.

You know, we put so much time and attention into Iraq and Afghanistan trying to make sure
that we secure our people there. We sent a lot of our diplomatic security personnel there. And so we had a slowdown over a number of years in our ability to build new facilities and now the latest ARB is saying let’s get back and do this again because there’s no substitute for it.

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