As presiding chair of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez welcomes Clinton

Presiding Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) this morning began hearings on what went wrong in Benghazi.

“We look forward to a constructive dialogue today to learn from the events that occurred in Benghazi and to devise policies to better protect the nearly 70,000 men and women serving in DC and in more than 275 posts around the world,” Menendez said in his introductory remarks.

Preparing to question Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the new chairman cited the necessity of improved communications in the aftermath of the assault in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

“The lessons of Benghazi aren’t only about adequately resourcing our security operations,” Menendez said. “It is also about the flow of information between the Department and our foreign facilities, within the Department itself, among all the agencies engaged in international work, and between the Department and Congress.  The Department should be assessing and regularly designating which posts it considers to be high-threat and high-risk , using that information to drive decisions about security and reporting to Congress on security conditions at those posts.”

Below are Menendez’s full remarks: 

Good morning. Let me begin by welcoming the new members to the Committee — Senators Kaine, Murphy, Johnson, McCain, Flake, and Paul.

Since the full Senate has not yet passed the Committee resolution — officially seating members — I ask unanimous consent of returning members to allow our prospective members to participate in today’s hearing. If there is no objection, so ordered.

Madame Secretary, let me welcome you and thank you for honoring your commitment to come before the Committee after the Administrative Review Board’s findings. You said you would after the findings were completed and of course you had a bit of an intervening challenge and we’re thrilled to see you here today doing well and to take time out of your schedule in these final days to discuss the tragic events that occurred in Benghazi on September 11 and the lessons we need to learn from that event to ensure that all American personnel are fully protected and our embassies fully secure wherever they are.

In your tenure as Secretary of State – and in your appearances before this Committee — you have always been upfront, forthright, and energetic in defending our foreign service officers and their needs, and I, for one, commend you for it.  Unfortunately, the tragic events in Benghazi are a sad reminder of the inherent risks that come with diplomatic engagement in parts of the world that are struggling to build new governments from what has often been a chaotic situation and underscore the very-real courage of the unsung men and women who put their lives at risk to serve this nation’s interests in those areas.

Let me say, I respect what you have done during your tenure as Secretary of State in representing not only this nation, but the people in our foreign service who are on the diplomatic frontline in turbulent and dangerous parts of the globe.  It is a reflection of your leadership as well as your patriotism, and your abiding belief in the power of our policies to move the world toward democracy, peace, and the preservation of human rights.

Your candor before this Committee has been a trademark of your service at Secretary of State and I believe that every member has always welcomed your openness and cooperation.  Your letter of December 18th to Chairman Kerry was appreciated by members on both sides as another example of that openness and cooperation.

Second, let me say, we share your mission here today and that we look forward to a constructive dialogue today to learn from the events that occurred in Benghazi and to devise policies to better protect the nearly 70,000 men and women serving in DC and in more than 275 posts around the world.

Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty lost their lives on September 11, 2012, during terrorist attacks on Special Mission Benghazi.  As a Committee, we honor their service to our nation and we grieve with their families, but we also resolve to take specific actions to prevent future incidents.  We may not be able to prevent every single terror attack in the future, but we can – and we must — make sure that our embassies and employees – starting with high-risk, high-threat posts — are capable of withstanding such an attack.

To that end, Secretary Clinton and the Department have embraced and agreed to implement all 29 of the Administration Review Board’s (ARB) recommendations and today we will hear more about the progress the Department has already made toward implementation of many of the recommendations. But Congress is not without responsibility here.

We also have an obligation to do our part to comply with the Administration Review Board’s recommendations.

It is my intention to work with the members of the Committee and the Department in the coming months on legislation that will improve security and better protect our employees.

One of the first and easiest things that we can do is to ensure that the Department’s contracting rules allow for sufficient flexibility to allow them to quickly make decisions where security is at risk and to hire local guards not only on the basis of the lowest price technically acceptable (LPTA), but on a best value basis – to ensure that we are not just checking the box when comes to securing our building and protecting our people.

State has this authority through March for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, but value should be a priority in all locations and particularly in all high-risk environments.  We are also looking at where sole source contracting may be appropriate to respond for certain security-related contacts.

The ARB also supports expanding the Marine Security Guard program, hiring and equipping more diplomatic security personnel, and — of critical importance – authorizing full funding for the Embassy Construction, Capital Cost Sharing Program.  The Capital Cost Sharing Program for embassy construction was created in the aftermath of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, that resulted in 224 deaths, including of 11 American citizens.  In its first year it funded the construction of 13 new facilities, followed by 11 in 2006 and 9 in 2005.

Nearly every year since, fewer facilities have been built than in the previous year due to both funding decreases and the fact that the allocations to the account have never been indexed to inflation – costs in the construction industry worldwide have risen tremendously.

At the current anticipated funding rate for FY 2013, the Department estimates it will be able to construct just 3 new facilities, despite the fact that there are a couple of dozen posts that have been designated as high-risk, high-threat posts that need replacing right now.

But, the lessons of Benghazi aren’t only about adequately resourcing our security operations.  It is also about the flow of information between the Department and our foreign facilities, within the Department itself, among all the agencies engaged in international work, and between the Department and Congress.  The Department should be assessing and regularly designating which posts it considers to be high-threat and high-risk , using that information to drive decisions about security and reporting to Congress on security conditions at those posts.

The ARB also makes clear that there were failures in Benghazi that resulted in an inadequate security posture and that responsibility for these failures was shared by Washington, by the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, and by the inexact and non-status designation of the Special Mission.  This left unclear what the security requirements of the Mission were or should be, and left staff in the field with limited ability and resources to fix the situation.  Clearly, that needs to change.

There are two other crucial points made by the ARB that I think deserve attention — on a larger scale – by the members of this Committee.  First, the ARB placed emphasis on the growing challenge faced by all American officials operating overseas  of how to remain active in high-threat environments, how to get out beyond the fortified walls of our facilities, to conduct the direct local interaction required for effective diplomacy. How do we remain accessible to foreign governments, civil society, and the private sector while still securing our embassies and protecting our people in these environments? 

Second, the ARB correctly points out that the Department has been resource challenged for many years and this has constrained our mission and led to the husbanding of resources to such a degree that restricting the use of resources – even for security – has become a conditioned response.   That is to say that decisions about security resources are being made based more on cost than on need and value.  And the answer can’t be to cut more from other foreign affairs accounts to fund security – that approach fails to recognize that diplomacy and foreign aid are but down payments that yield dividends to us in terms of good will, open borders for the export of American products, protection of our intellectual property, and most importantly, cooperation on security and counter-terrorism.

Madame Secretary, again welcome.  We very much appreciate your time. On a personal note, this is likely to be your last hearing before this Committee and your leadership will be missed. I know I speak for many when I say that you have been an outstanding Secretary of State and an exemplary representative of American foreign policy and American values and interests to every leader around the world. You have changed the face of America abroad and extended the hospitable reach of our nation to ordinary citizens, in addition to world leaders.

During your tenure you have steered us through economic crises in Europe; changing relations with Asia, regime change in the Arab world, a momentous transition in Libya, and a trend toward global strength based on economics rather than arms.  I personally appreciate that fact that you have used your office to aggressively implement sanctions against Iran.

In addition to these priorities, on nearly every trip —  of which there were many – you also supported, met with, and provided a voice to those individuals that don’t live in the limelight – women, children, the LGBT community and religious minorities.  You have made a real difference in the personal lives of so many people and for that you have the thanks of a grateful nation.

I know you will not go gently from the world stage, and I look forward to working closely with you in the future.

Thank you for your service to the nation here in the Senate and as Secretary of State.  We’d welcome you back at any time to talk about the issues of the day, recognizing that you may not care to spend any more time in that chair than you already have.  But we certainly appreciate your incredible service.

With that, I’ll turn to Senator Corker for his comments.

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