Johnson, Committee Examine New Multi-Million Dollar Training Facility Proposal

WASHINGTON – Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee heard testimony Tuesday on the U.S. Department of State’s problematic proposal to construct a new diplomatic security training facility. “We would like to learn why this half-billion-dollar project was greenlighted even though a more cost-effective alternative was available,” Johnson said in his opening remarks. 

The State Department is proposing  the construction of a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center at Fort Pickett Army National Guard Base in Blackstone, Virginia, although auditors at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have recommended the administration choose an alternative – an expansion of the training complex at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia. Confusingly, the OMB director ultimately selected the State Department’s proposal.

“OMB’s role was not to second guess diplomatic security requirements,” OMB’s acting deputy director for management, David Mader, told the committee. “The expertise of this function clearly resides with the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. OMB ultimately relied on the State Department’s unique understanding of diplomatic missions abroad to give appropriate weight to the consideration of several factors.” 

Also testifying at Tuesday’s hearing were Gregory Starr, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the State Department, and Connie Patrick, director of the FLETC for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Committee members pressed Starr on the obvious lack of consolidation at the proposed facility at Fort Pickett. 

“Your original game plan was to consolidate as much as possible,” Johnson addressed Starr, and FLETC gave you a total consolidation to meet that original goal. Instead, State’s proposal separates the construction of 11 hard-skill facilities and eight soft-skill facilities.   

Under DHS’s proposal to expand FLETC, Patrick said, the all-inclusive per-week cost per trainee would be $1,600. The State Department would just need to get its personnel to the training facility. “I look for alternative ways to achieve the same end without building because that is the more expensive option,” she added. “We use a lot of modeling and simulation and other means of training to meet our objective.”   

Starr was not able to provide the committee with per-week training costs and contradicted lodging and transportation information provided in the State Department’s Updated Master Plan. 

“FLETC is a law enforcement training center and we are increasingly involved in operations that are much more closely aligned with military than law enforcement,” Starr told committee members, saying that is the heart of the issue. “Spending money on a facility that will not meet our needs, that does not allow us to train with the military on a military type training base is what we need for the future.” 

Patrick testified that there is a Marine Corps base 25 miles from the FLETC facility in Georgia that can be used for military type training. 

“I have much more faith that [DHS] can maintain cost efficiency versus State Department that doesn’t have a clue what it’s costing,” Johnson responded. 

In closing, Johnson told the witnesses that once the Government Accountability Office’s report comes out evaluating the State Department’s proposal, he would like to hold another hearing to review the information. 

The chairman’s opening statement can be found here

The full hearing video can be seen here