Post-Benghazi, turf battle threatens Diplomatic Security training

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Washington (CNN)One thing Democrats and Republicans have been able to agree on amid the fallout from the Benghazi, Libya, attacks was that diplomats needed more security training.

The recommendation for a state-of-the-art training facility for U.S. diplomats and agents was embraced on both sides of the aisle, but a turf war is threatening to torpedo the project.
The proposed consolidated Bureau of Diplomatic Security training center is viewed as critical for protecting American embassies and consulates overseas.
    The State Department wants to use it to train 9,000 diplomats and agents annually, and to do so at a site in Fort Pickett, 50 miles south of Richmond, Virginia. Personnel would be relatively close to the Washington area, where the Pentagon, intelligence agency headquarters and major military sites are.
    Construction was set to begin in August, with an expected completion date of 2019. The $413 million project calls for explosives demolition, firing ranges, driver training tracks, mock diplomatic facilities, classrooms, laboratories and dormitories.
    But at the last minute, the project was put on hold over a bid by several Republican lawmakers from Georgia who want the center to be built on an existing law enforcement training ground in Glynco, Georgia, near the Florida border.
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    They say that site would be cheaper, meeting the requirements for $272 million.
    But a recent audit by the Goverment Accountability Office supports the administration's case for the center to be built at the Fort Pickett site because it better meets the requirements of Diplomatic Security.
    The GAO cited the cost savings afforded by its proximity to personnel and entities in Washington, the ability to centralize training locations now scattered over seven states and its ability to host sophisticated nighttime exercises not as readily available in Georgia.
    In total, the GAO found sending Diplomatic Security agents and Foreign Service personnel to Georgia for training could cost U.S. taxpayers up to $736 million more over 50 years than hosting the facility in Virginia. The report also criticized the Georgia bid for not being comprehensive, accurate and credible.
    The Office of Management and Budget, however, had concerns about the costs of the Virginia site, and that finding -- disputed by advocates of the Virginia site -- is one that Georgia supporters have seized on.
    In addition, the office of Buddy Carter, the Georgia Republican representative in whose district the facility would be located, suggested that the State Department had fiddled with the site requirements to make sure the Virginia facility was workable at the same time that it spelled out training requirements -- such as high-explosives detonation capabilities -- that were unnecessary.
    "This type of force projection is arguably outside the scope of an agency tasked with protecting and quickly evacuating personnel," he said.
    He added that Carter "has repeatedly stated that he wants to bring this training online as quickly and efficiently as possible" and said what was needed to get the project moving was "a true apples-to-apples comparison" of the different sites.
    The impasse threatens to torpedo an administration request for $99 million to break ground on the project after California Republican Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, put a 30-day hold on the allocation.
    Rep. Buddy Carter, the Georgia Republican in whose district the facility would be located, did not respond to a request for comment.
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    The broader annual spending bill for State Department projects is stuck in partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees included the money the administration requested in their bills, but neither chamber has voted on the legislation.
    Republicans on the House committee added another obstacle to locating the new security training facility in Virginia: requiring a separate vote by Congress to create the facility.
    The Senate version of the spending bill also requires further analysis by other committees before construction can begin.
    But not all Republicans agree with the holdup.
    Virginia Republican Reps. Randy Forbes, Rob Wittman and Robert Hurt joined Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner in an op-ed on Monday, in which they called for moving forward with the Fort Pickett project.
    "The land has been acquired," they wrote. "The environmental studies are complete. The construction contract has been let. More unnecessary delay dishonors the many brave Americans supporting our diplomatic mission overseas who risk their lives every day."
    The irony that congressional turf battles have stalled one of the recommendations of the Best Practice Review Panel, established at the behest of an independent review board commissioned by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after the Benghazi attacks, to improve security overseas was not lost on her campaign.
    "It is alarming that partisan politics on the Hill is keeping our diplomats and diplomatic security service from getting the training they need to stay safe," said Jake Sullivan, a top Clinton campaign aide who served as her director of policy planning at the State Department.