Our guest blogger is CAP Visiting Fellow Pratap Chatterjee.
Budgets are being slashed to ribbons across Washington this year. So what federal agency would dare ask for ten times as much money as it did last time around? The State Department — they want $3 billion to pay for security for the five U.S. diplomatic missions in Iraq, up from the $300 million they spent in 2008.
And as the Wall Street Journal reported today, State is looking to spend that money on private security contractors. Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of State for management, told the Commission on Wartime Contracting yesterday that the agency
plans to hire a 5,100-strong force to protect diplomatic personnel, guard embassy buildings and operate a fleet of aircraft and armored vehicles.
How good of an idea is that? For Kennedy it’s just a matter of protecting diplomatic lives. The reality is that the 46,000 U.S. troops currently helping to protect State personnel in Iraq are unlikely to get an invitation to stay past the December 31 deadline and the Pentagon is busy shoveling out $100,000 a month to local sheiks to make sure that they don’t get shot at when they leave.
But there are bigger questions that need to be asked. The State Deparment doesn’t exactly have a clean record when it comes to managing private security contractors. Keep in mind this is the same agency that paid Blackwater to guard its diplomats in 2007 when the company’s security shot and killed 17 Iraqis. And State employees allegedly helped “the Blackwater guards avoid punishment.”
State was also widely criticized for its failure to manage police training contractors in both Afghanistan and Iraq. And the security it hired to guard the Kabul embassy was under fire for “drunken brawls, prostitutes, hazing and humiliation, taking vodka shots out of buttcracks.”
But most importantly, State could use the $3 billion to beef up it’s own Bureau of Diplomatic Security (BDS). The Governemnt Accountability Office (GAO) recommended last year that State do a full review of how it handled diplomatic security:
“Diplomatic Security’s ability to fully carry out its mission of providing security worldwide is hindered by staffing shortages in domestic offices — even in light of its workforce growth — and other operational challenges such as inadequate facilities, pervasive language proficiency shortfalls, and host-country constraints, among others.”
It noted that some offices were down to 60 percent of capacity and that “many posts go for years without updating their security training.” In fact, the State Department’s BDS boasts just one professional responsibility investigator for every 2,000 employees, compared to the Drug Enforcement Agency which maintains a 1:288 ratio, and the Department of Justice which maintains a 1:170 ratio.
However, State politely declined the GAO recommendations, saying simply that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s needs are being “adequately considered.” Instead of paying Blackwater-like firms top-dollar to run security, perhaps the Obama administration would be better off spending the $3 billion figuring out how to fix the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and to staff it properly.