Investigators looking for lessons from the fatal terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi might want to start on Capitol Hill, where Congress slashed spending on diplomatic security and U.S. embassy construction over the past two years.
Since 2010, Congress cut $296 million from the State Department’s spending request for embassy security and construction, with additional cuts in other State Department security accounts, according to an analysis by a former appropriations committee staffer.
Rep. Michael Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, made clear Wednesday that congressional staff will be looking into the attack, in addition to a probe by the State Department’s inspector general and another State Department investigation required by federal law.
The cuts to the embassy construction, security and maintenance budget was almost 10 percent of the entire appropriation for that account over those two years, said Scott Lilly, now a scholar at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
“Anytime we cut that account back, we are putting people’s lives at risk, people who are serving the country” in dangerous places abroad, said Mr. Lilly.
The cuts mean that “a lot of places you’d intended to secure better, you don’t reach” this year, he added.
He said he did not know whether the cuts had impacted security at the Benghazi consulate that was stormed on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by heavily armed Islamic extremists, who burned down the building and killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
A State Department official told The Washington Times that there was no impact on security in Benghazi from the cuts.
Since 1999, the official said, the department has spent $13 billion on 94 new secure diplomatic facilities “and security upgrades to existing properties that have moved more than 27,000 people into safer, more secure facilities.”
The cuts were the latest in a series of squeezes on State Department spending. Congress has appropriated less money for the department than requested in every year since Fiscal 2007, according to budget figures.
“During both the latter years of the Bush presidency and throughout the Obama presidency, the administration has recommended boosting spending on foreign aid and [State Department] foreign operations, including security, and Congress has always cut it back,” said Philip J. Crowley, a former State Department spokesman.
“There is simply not a constituency on the Hill to increase spending on diplomacy and development. Resources do matter.” said Mr. Crowley, now a fellow at the George Washington University Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication.
“Getting the budget request cut is pretty standard for the State Department,” added James Dobbins, a former career diplomat who was a special envoy to a series of global troubled spots under former President Bill Clinton and former President George W. Bush.
But he noted that the State Department has gotten “billions and billions over the years” to rebuild, move and fortify missions around the world since two 1983 suicide truck bomb attacks on U.S. facilities in Beirut.
Following those attacks, a special commission was established by the secretary of state to examine security measures at U.S. embassies. The Inman commission report in 1985 recommended standards for diplomatic facilities like narrower windows, blast-proof walls and “setback” — a distance between the public street and the buildings sufficient to protect the occupants from truck bombs.