House votes to boost embassy security

The House passed legislation early Sunday morning that would direct billions of dollars to boost the security of U.S. embassies around the world, a reaction to a wave of recent attacks against U.S. personnel overseas.

Members passed the Department of State Operations and Embassy Security Authorization Act, H.R. 2848, in a 384-37 vote. The bill was broadly supported by both parties as it was passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee over the summer.

Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the legislation is needed after a review of the attack against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya found that the U.S. facility there was "inadequate." That attack left four U.S. officials dead.

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But Royce said other attacks and embassy closures show the need for improvements in other trouble spots around the world.

"The closure of 21 U.S. embassies in August and the recent closure of our embassy in Beirut demonstrate the continued threat to our facilities and personnel overseas," he said.

The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), said the attack on the U.S. consulate in Afghanistan earlier this month "is a stark reminder of these very real dangers."

During Saturday debate, only one member indicated any opposition to the bill. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) said he wanted the bill to move more quickly to establish a new security training facility.

But Royce said the bill only calls for a feasibility study before building the new facility, which would be built in Forbes's district.

The bill authorizes $4.83 billion for embassy security. That amount is broken up into a $2.65 billion chuck for embassy security, construction and maintenance, and $2.18 billion for the Worldwide Security Program.

It requires the State Department to list all high-risk and high-treat posts, and to focus on making improvements to these buildings.

Among other things, it requires State to develop contingency plans to keep government workers safe, and gives the department the flexibility to spend more on upgrades where needed instead of relying on the lowest bid from contractors.

The bill also authorizes the entire State Department, something Congress hasn't done in a decade. Royce said that failure has prevented adequate congressional oversight.

"Our ability to exercise oversight and push for reform within the Department has been eroded," he said. "That is why it is so essential that we get this authorization into law."

Earlier in the day, the House passed a bill aimed at improving the quality and safety of drugs.

Members approved the Drug Quality and Security Act, H.R. 3204, in a voice vote. The bill puts in place nation-wide standards for tracing drugs back to their manufacturers, and is a reaction to a meningitis outbreak last year that was traced back to a New England medical company.