As we discuss the Embassy Security and Personnel Act in the Senate, our thoughts are with the families of Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, all American patriots who gave their lives in service to the nation in Benghazi on September 11th. In the diplomatic lobby at the Department of State, there are 244 names of Foreign Service personnel who will forever be remembered for their service. Tragically, the most recent name added to this list of honor is Anne T. Smedinghoff who served in Afghanistan and was killed this April. We are forever indebted to these Americans for their bravery.
The lessons we’ve learned from tragedies affecting our diplomatic posts over the years in Beirut, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, and Benghazi – are emblematic of the security challenge we increasingly face from disparate extremist and terrorist groups -- and which will require our full, unequivocal and unwavering commitment to fully securing our embassies and protecting those who serve this nation abroad.
Such investments are not an extravagance. They are not simply another budget item.
We must strike the proper balance between sealing off vulnerabilities in high threat areas and continue to conduct vigorous and effective diplomacy that serves the national interest.
The ARB stated it clearly: “The solution requires a more serious and sustained commitment from Congress to support State Department needs, which, in total constitute a small percentage both of the full national budget and that spent for national security. One overall conclusion in this report is that Congress must do its part to meet this challenge and provide necessary resources to the state Department to address security risks and meet mission imperatives.”
The bill I have introduced is part of the solution – a serious and sustained commitment that takes the lessons we’ve learned and turns them into action.
The solution must be multifaceted. It must include enhanced physical security around our embassies, and ensure that our diplomats are equipped with the language skills and security training necessary to keep them safe when they come out from behind the embassy walls to do their jobs.
It also requires us to ensure that the persons protecting our missions are not selected simply because they are the cheapest available force.
Where conditions require enhanced security, this bill gives State additional flexibility to contract guard forces based on the best value, rather than the lowest bidder.
It also means holding people accountable. When an employee exhibits unsatisfactory leadership that has serious security consequences, the Secretary must have the flexibility to change personnel. This bill gives the Secretary greater flexibility in disciplinary actions in the future.
It also authorizes funding for key items identified by the Accountability Review Board on Benghazi, including embassy security and construction; Arabic language training; and construction of a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center to consolidate and expand security training operations for State Department personnel so that instead of piecing together our training at myriad different facilities, we streamline them into a single facility that can provide comprehensive training and to more people.
Lastly, the bill requires detailed reports from the Department on its progress in implementing all of the recommendations made by the ARB, and specifically requires the identification of -- and reporting on -- security at high-risk, high-threat facilities.
At the end of the day, if we fail to act, if we fail to address these issues there will be another incident. The responsibility is ours and the failure to act will be ours as well. This is the time for solutions. The future safety of those who serve this nation abroad is now.
Menendez is the senior senator from New Jersey, serving since 2006. He is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.