Tags: house | embassy | security | vote

House Passes Bill to Strengthen Security at U.S. Embassies

Sunday, 29 Sep 2013 06:26 AM

The House passed a bill that would authorize additional Marines to protect American embassies, more expensive contracts for guarding overseas posts and funding for State Department operations in fiscal 2014.

The $15.6 billion bill would match the White House request for $2.65 billion in funds to improve embassy security.

“We need the Marines at the gate, we need to guard the gate, it needs to be reinforced,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican.

The closure of several U.S. embassies and consulates in August “demonstrate the continued threat to our facilities and personnel overseas,” he said during floor debate before the House passed the measure 384-37.

The legislation builds on previous measures that provided for increased security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, 2012, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The vote comes amid a budget impasse in Washington that could lead to a government shutdown on Oct. 1.

Funding for an additional 156 Marines to guard overseas posts would be authorized, as would construction of 26 access points at high-risk posts, according to a House Foreign Affairs Committee summary of the bill. There are currently about 1,200 Marines guarding embassies and consulates, with another 1,000 in the process of being moved into the Marine Security Guard program.

Risky Posts

The State Department would be required to compile a list of high-risk posts and ensure their security and funding needs are met. The department also would be required to collaborate with the Pentagon to draw up contingency plans for emergencies, including rapid deployment of military forces.

Changes to security contracts for high-threat outposts would be authorized, meaning the State Department would be allowed to solicit what are known as best-value contracts, which take into consideration a company’s past performance, expertise and other non-financial factors that can end up costing more. Current law says the State Department must accept the lowest-bid contract that meets all necessary criteria.

The best-value contracts probably would apply to five high- threat posts, according to a Sept. 24 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Existing contracts at those posts exceed $115 million, according to CBO, which estimates that new contracts would cost 40 percent more.

Many of the embassy-security provisions come from H.R. 2723, a bill sponsored by Representative Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Other provisions in the bill would authorize $1.9 billion for contributions to international peacekeeping activities, compared with $2 billion enacted in 2013 before implementation of the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.

Another section would authorize $1.4 billion for contributions to international organizations of which the U.S. is a member. That compares with $1.55 billion in 2013 and the $1.57 billion requested by the White House.

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