Cite concerns over lack of accountability, transparency in decision-making process
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and David Perdue (R-GA) along with several member of Georgia’s U.S. House of Representatives delegation are calling for a federal review of a Department of State proposal to construct a costly new training center from scratch in Virginia instead of using an established federal training facility in Georgia that could save taxpayers millions of dollars.
The proposed Virginia location for a training center for Foreign Service personnel would require taxpayers to fund the construction of an entirely new facility – a decision that the Office of Management and Budget admits was made by the Obama administration without the necessary cost-benefit analysis of options.
Senators Isakson and Perdue are calling on the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a complete, independent analysis of all options for meeting the State Department’s training needs, including augmenting an existing facility – the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, or FLETC for short, in Brunswick, Ga. – that the Georgia delegation argues could achieve significant cost savings.
“As stewards of taxpayer dollars, we want to improve diplomatic security training efforts in a cost-effective, timely manner,” writes the Georgia Congressional delegation in a letter to the GAO. “We believe a thorough and impartial review of proposals is necessary to determine the option that best addresses State’s needs in a fiscally responsible manner.”
In a 2008 report to Congress, the State Department determined it needed to consolidate its existing security training facilities to improve instructional efficiency and to provide training to an estimated 9,000-10,000 Diplomatic Security and other State personnel.
The Department of State announced its interest in moving forward with plans to construct the new Foreign Affairs Security Training Center, known as FAST-C, in Blackstone, Va.
The State Department’s initial proposal for the construction of FAST-C was estimated to cost over $950 million. The State Department later reduced the scope of the project and lowered the estimated cost to $413 million.
Senators Isakson, Perdue and members of the Georgia delegation are calling for a thorough and impartial review of the State Department’s existing proposals for its training center given the vast cost difference based on estimates by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security between constructing the facility from scratch in Blackstone, Va., at the cost of $413 million, compared to estimated $272 million to retrofit the existing training center in Georgia.
“We have concerns that this scaled down version leaves critical infrastructure needs, such as boarding, medical, dining, and recreational facilities unaddressed,” they continued.“We are also concerned that costs would likely increase significantly after the initial groundbreaking to address these gaps in infrastructure, and potentially additional training needs.
“The proposals we have seen for FLETC and FAST-C vary considerably in cost, scope, and projected completion time. We believe that due to these significant differences, an impartial review is imperative before the administration moves forward with either option. As such, we respectfully request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) review both State’s FAST-C proposal and the DHS proposal to expand FLETC’s Glynco site to meet State’s requirements.”
A copy of the letter from Senators Isakson and Perdue along with U.S. Representatives Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-GA-01), Sanford Bishop, (D-GA-02), Lynn Westmoreland, (R-GA-03), Tom Price, (R-GA-06), Rob Woodall, (R-GA-07), Austin Scott, (R-GA-08), Jody Hice, (R-GA-10), Rick Allen, (R-GA-12), Barry Loudermilk, (R-GA-11), David Scott, (D-GA-13), and Tom Graves, (R-GA-14), to U.S. Government Accountability Office Comptroller General Gene Dodaro is available here.
In 2013, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) submitted a proposal to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to service State’s training needs by augmenting the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), in Brunswick, Ga., which provides security training for DHS and 95 federal partner organizations, including the State Department, as well as state and local law enforcement agencies. In its 2013 proposal to OMB, DHS included the construction of new buildings, weapons ranges, and driving tracks to meet the requirements of State’s original FAST-C master plan. FLETC estimated that this new construction would cost $272 million. By leveraging its existing facilities to meet State’s training needs, FLETC estimates its proposal could also achieve significant cost savings over the long term.
In April 2014, the Administration confirmed that it planned to adopt the State Department’s proposal to build FAST-C in Blackstone, Va. However, in a meeting with Senate staff in May 2015, OMB explained that the State Department never provided the necessary information to OMB, or to FLETC, to allow for an accurate comparison of the two options despite OMB making the specific request that it do so. In that same meeting, OMB stated that the State Department has “artificially constrained the analysis” of the FAST-C proposal, and that OMB ultimately chose to simply defer the decisions to the State Department. It appears therefore that OMB failed to conduct a sufficiently rigorous analysis, in significant part due to a lack of cooperation by the State Department.