Combating Terrorism:

State Department's Antiterrorism Program Needs Improved Guidance and More Systematic Assessments of Outcomes

GAO-08-336: Published: Feb 29, 2008. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 2008.

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The Department of State's (State) Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program's objectives are to provide partner nations with counterterrorism training and equipment, improve bilateral ties, and increase respect for human rights. State's Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism (S/CT) provides policy guidance and its Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Antiterrorism Assistance, (DS/T/ATA) manages program operations. GAO assessed (1) State's guidance for determining ATA priorities, (2) how State coordinates ATA with other counterterrorism programs, (3) the extent State established ATA program goals and measures, and (4) State's reporting on U.S. international counterterrorism assistance. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed State documents and met with cognizant officials in Washington, D.C., and four ATA program partner nations.

S/CT provides minimal guidance to help prioritize ATA program recipients, and S/CT and DS/T/ATA do not systematically align ATA assistance with U.S. assessments of foreign partner counterterrorism needs. S/CT provides policy guidance to DS/T/ATA through quarterly meetings and a tiered list of priority countries, but the list does not provide guidance on country counterterrorism related program goals, objectives, or training priorities. S/CT and DS/T/ATA also did not consistently use country-specific needs assessments and program reviews to plan assistance. S/CT has established mechanisms to coordinate the ATA program with other U.S. international efforts to combat terrorism. S/CT holds interagency meetings with representatives from the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Treasury and other agencies as well as ambassador-level regional strategic coordinating meetings. GAO did not find any significant duplication or overlap among the various U.S. international counterterrorism efforts. State has made progress in establishing goals and intended outcomes for the ATA program, but S/CT and DS/T/ATA do not systematically assess the outcomes and, as a result, cannot determine the effectiveness of program assistance. For example, although sustainability is a principal focus, S/CT and DS/T/ATA have not set clear measures of sustainability or integrated sustainability into program planning. State reporting on U.S. counterterrorism assistance abroad has been incomplete and inaccurate. S/CT has not provided a congressionally mandated annual report to Congress on U.S. government-wide assistance related to combating international terrorism since 1996. After 1996, S/CT has only submitted to Congress annual reports on the ATA program. However, these reports contained inaccurate program information, such as the number of students trained and courses offered. Additionally, the reports lacked comprehensive information on the results of program assistance that would be useful to Congress.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Congress may wish to reconsider the requirement that the Secretary of State provide an annual report on the nature and amount of U.S. government counterterrorism assistance provided abroad given the broad changes in the scope and nature of U.S. counterterrorism assistance abroad, in conjunction with the fact that the report has not been submitted since 1996.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2008, the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs held an oversight hearing related to State's Antiterrorism Assistance Program. At the hearing, the Ranking Member noted GAO's finding and asked questions to assess the usefulness of the reporting requirement. Specifically, the Ranking Member asked questions of State witnesses to determine whether the reporting requirement was important and whether State has the resources to compile the report.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should establish clearer measures of sustainability, and refocus the process for assessing the sustainability of partner nations' counterterrorism capabilities. The revised evaluation process should include not only an overall assessment of partner nation counterterrorism capabilities, but also provide guidance for assessing the specific outcomes of ATA.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on the report, State agreed with our principal findings and recommendations to improve its Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program guidance, the needs assessment and program review process, and its assessments of ATA program outcomes. In response, State updated its guidance for measuring outcomes and sustainability in a revised memorandum of agreement signed by its Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism (S/CT) and its Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Antiterrorism Assistance (DS/T/ATA) in May 2010. As a part of this guidance, S/CT and DS/T/ATA established measures of sustainability and revised the evaluation process used in conducting country assessments and program reviews. Specifically, they established new measures to assess sustainability through an analysis of (1) the extent to which ATA course curricula and materials are incorporated into partner nation law enforcement training academies, (2) the number of qualified instructors for such courses, (3) the existence and effectiveness of partner nation "train-the-trainer" courses, (4) the ability of partner nation law enforcement agencies and units to replicate training, and (5) the ability of partner nations to serve as a regional or international training hub for third countries.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should ensure that needs assessments and program reviews are both useful and linked to ATA resource decisions and development of country specific assistance plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response, in May 2010, State's Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism (S/CT) and Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Antiterrorism Assistance (DS/T/ATA) signed a memorandum of agreement updating their procedures. The memorandum of agreement lays out updated procedures for conducting country-specific program assessments and reviews and for ensuring they are effectively integrated with resource decisions and planning. For example, the memorandum of agreement states that an S/CT representative will participate as an integral member of the Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program assessment and review team visiting each partner nation on a biennial or triennial basis, and that DS/T/ATA and S/CT will coordinate closely to prepare, plan, execute, and follow up on assessments and program reviews to ensure that they are scheduled and conducted with appropriate scope and focus to achieve program goals and objectives. It also states that country-specific assistance plans, among other considerations, will be factored into decision-making on budget allocations, and that DS and S/CT will co-host formal semi-annual budget and program reviews twice a year to help ensure ATA and other program resource allocations support policy objectives and funding requirements.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should revisit and revise internal guidance (the 1991 State policy memorandum and Foreign Affairs Manual, in particular) to ensure that the roles and responsibilities for S/CT and DS/T/ATA are still relevant and better enable State to determine which countries should receive assistance and what type, and allocate limited ATA resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2010, the two State units responsible for implementing Anti-terrorism Assistance (ATA) signed a memorandum of agreement that reflects changes in their partnership since the 1991 guidance and clarifies their respective roles, responsibilities, and interrelationships in order to ensure the success of the ATA program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should comply with the congressional mandate to report to Congress on U.S. international counterterrorism assistance.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We reported that while the Foreign Assistance Act requires the Secretary of State to report annually on the amount and nature of all assistance provided by the U.S. government related to international terrorism, State had not submitted such reports in over a decade. We also reported that officials in State's Bureau of Legislative Affairs indicated that, to their knowledge, they had never received an inquiry from congressional staff about the missing reports. As a result, we suggested that Congress reconsider the annual reporting requirement. In commenting on the report, State supported the Matter for Congressional Consideration that Congress reexamine the reporting requirement, but State did not specifically address our recommendation that it comply with the congressional mandate to report on U.S. counterterrorism assistance. In June 2008, the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs held an oversight hearing related to State's Antiterrorism Assistance Program. At the hearing, Ranking Member Shays noted GAO's finding and asked questions to assess the usefulness of the reporting requirement. Specifically, he asked questions of State witnesses to determine whether the reporting requirement was important and whether State has the resources to compile the report. Based on this inquiry, we are closing the recommendation as implemented.

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