Congressional Delegation Cries Foul Over Effort To Derail Fort Pickett Funding

Published 2:17 pm Thursday, June 25, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nine members of Virginia’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Va., recently wrote a letter urging the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and chairwoman of the Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations to oppose language in the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that that would jeopardize funding for a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center at Fort Pickett. The delegation believes the proposed language is a form of protest against the selection of Fort Pickett over other possible sites and part of a broader attempt to derail the process. Following is the text of the letter.

Dear Chairman Rogers and Chairwoman Granger:

We are writing to express our deep concern over proposed language in the FY 2016 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that would prohibit funding for a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) until such a Center is specifically authorized by an Act of Congress. Further, the language states that if FASTC is not authorized before September 30, 2016, funds currently available to support its construction may be used at other existing training facilities.

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It is time for the debate on FASTC to end. The world is getting more dangerous, not less, for U.S. personnel abroad. As you both know, the search for a dedicated location to train our personnel assigned to high-threat posts has gone on for over six years – since 2009. In this time, the State Department conducted a thorough and transparent process, considering more than 70 sites to find the ideal location for FASTC. This included working under strict requirements to find a site located in close proximity to the other federal agencies and units that work side-by-side with State Department personnel at our Embassies and posts overseas. The most critical of these is the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group in Quantico, Virginia.  Fort Pickett was ultimately selected in the highly competitive process that also included review of the FLETC facilities in Glynco, Georgia as a potential option.

Continued attempts by some members of Congress to allege malfeasance with the selection of Fort Pickett  only serves to further delay this project and inserts a level of risk to our State Department personnel that is unacceptable. We are extremely troubled that these efforts continue — even in the wake of an Office of Management and Budget due diligence review in 2014 that concluded Fort Pickett was the best venue for State to satisfy its training mandate in the most effective manner possible.

When it comes to protecting the men and women serving our country abroad, it is imperative that we make a holistic assessment of U.S. national security and mission needs.  In addition to cost, several factors must be weighed and balanced.  For FASTC, these include distance, organizational synergies, capacity, agency partnership, and operational capacity. These factors are what led the Administration to repeatedly reaffirm that Fort Pickett is best suited to fulfill all of these requirements. For example, other sites fall short of the hard-skills training needed to equip our diplomatic security agents to withstand another Benghazi styled attack. These deficiencies include the inability to facilitate high-speed driving training for heavy, armored vehicles, advanced explosives IED countermeasure training, and joint-training exercises with Department of Defense elements. As such, the President’s FY 2016 budget request of $99 million for FASTC was requested specifically for Fort Pickett.

The tragedy of this entire situation is that, since the requirement for this facility was identified over six years ago, four Americans serving in Benghazi were killed. And despite the 2012 Accountability Review Board recommendation to improve and consolidate high-threat training programs and facilities in the wake of the Benghazi attack, U.S. facilities have been attacked in Tunisia, Turkey, and Afghanistan and we have evacuated our Embassy personnel in Libya and Yemen. Yet, instead of accelerating the construction of a facility at Fort Pickett that, according to Assistant Secretary of State Gregory Starr is “the most effective solution” to better protect our foreign affairs personnel, we are wasting more time and putting Americans in danger.

We strongly encourage you to oppose language in the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriation bill that would prevent us from moving as quickly as possible to ensure that these brave Americans serving our country receive the training they need.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine

U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott

U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes

U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly

U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt

U.S. Rep. Dave Brat

U.S. Rep. Don Beyer