(This post has been updated.)
Foreign service officers, before shipping off to a dangerous post in places like Baghdad or Kabul, spend several days in intensive security training, learning skills such as driving a car from the passenger seat after your driver’s been shot dead, firing machine guns, and tourniqueting a severed, bleeding limb.
State Department personnel, about 9,200 annually, do most of the “crash, bang” courses (as it’s known to insiders) at a leased facility in Summit Point, W. Va. Since the beginning of Bill Clinton’s administration, State has wanted a site all its own. The idea gained momentum and lost steam several times over the years, but after the 2012 attacks on the U.S. compounds in Benghazi, a need for enhanced security training found new urgency.
But there’s a debate over whether State should build a brand new facility or retrofit an existing government-run operation in Glynco, Ga. that’s currently used to train officials from 91 agencies, including the Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, the FBI, even the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
In October, Julia Frifield, State’s assistant secretary of legislative affairs, told lawmakers that the Obama administration had determined new construction at Fort Pickett in Blackstone, Va. “is the most effective and efficient proposal for a consolidated hard-skills training facility.”
But Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says State misled him. In a May 1 letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, Royce claimed that OMB officials — after some pressing — told his staff they had actually recommended State use the Georgia site rather than build a new one on a closed military base.
Neither OMB nor State returned our requests for comment.
Moreover, Royce says OMB has a written analysis that shows OMB suggested the Georgia facility, which the White House won’t release. His staff has been trying to get a copy for more than a year. (The Loop has been trying since March.)
In the letter, Royce says his staff met in April with OMB officials who conceded that “after an extensive and lengthy review” they had recommended State “pursue its Diplomatic Security training” at the Georgia facility rather than at Fort Pickett. OMB responded last week that it still would not turn over that report, according to a committee spokesman.
Royce is considering a subpoena for the documents, his spokesman said.
The issue is one of cost. According to estimates provided to Congress from both sites, building the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Virginia would cost twice as much as retrofitting the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia.
But State has countered that, over time, consolidating its training at Fort Pickett would save costs, specifically because they’d have to fly diplomats to Georgia rather than bus them to Virginia.
“There was a major property, obviously, down in Georgia that was considered. It’s the enforcement training center. The law enforcement, federal law enforcement training center, and there was a lot of talk about going there,” Secretary of State John Kerry said at a Senate hearing in February. “But we made the right decision to go to Fort Pickett.”
We’re told OMB disagrees. But of course it’s hard to know without the documents.