Opinion
House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., displays a letter of praise from President Obama to Gregory Hicks, former deputy chief of mission in Libya, number two in rank to slain U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, during a House Oversight Committee hearing about last year

Benghazi a consequence of misplaced priorities, not lack of funding

Photo of Rep. Jason Chaffetz
Rep. Jason Chaffetz
Member of Congress (R-UT)

After spending hundreds of millions of State Department dollars on global climate change initiatives around the world, the Obama administration and prominent Democrats have repeatedly blamed spending cuts for the administration’s failure to secure the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Critics point to my vote to cut spending as evidence that my colleagues and I were complicit in the security failures. Such allegations are not supported by the facts.

Both public testimony and private emails from State Department officials confirm that the budget had no bearing on security decisions in Libya. Furthermore, the security team in Libya was available at no cost to the State Department. Finally, cuts to the State Department’s 2012 budget came after a five-year period in which the department’s budget nearly doubled. These facts paint a troubling picture of an agency that simply did not prioritize security in Libya.

In her testimony before the Oversight Committee last October, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb answered definitively that the 2012 budget cuts did not factor in to her decision to deny security requests. Moreover, an email exchange between Assistant Secretary Eric Boswell and Diplomatic Security Chief Financial Officer Robert Baldre dated September 28, 2012 reads, “I do not feel that we have ever been at a point where we sacrificed security due to a lack of funding. … Typically Congress has provided sufficient funding.”

The presence of a Site Security Team cost the State Department nothing. The team was funded by the Department of Defense. Yet it was pulled from Libya five weeks before the attacks. From mid-March through the attacks, the number of permanently assigned American security personnel in Benghazi never exceeded three, and occasionally dropped to as low as one, despite the fact that the approved plan for Benghazi called for five permanently assigned diplomatic security agents.

Further analysis of the budget numbers suggests that the State Department had sufficient resources to prepare for this attack, as evidenced by the department’s massive budget increases in recent years.

In FY2007, State Department outlays were $13.7 billion. Five years later, State Department outlays were $26.9 billion — a 96% increase (source: Table 4.1 — Outlays by Agency: 1962–2018). The embassy and diplomatic security portion of the budget increased 92%, or 18% annualized, from 2008 to 2012, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Even when funding for overseas contingency operations unrelated to Libya are excluded, we see a 32% increase in embassy and diplomatic security spending — 7% annualized — over those four years.

During that time, the State Department had plenty of money for other priorities. It spent $5.6 million on cultural preservation programs in 2011, $2 billion on the U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative, hundreds of thousands of dollars on an “Energy Efficiency Sweep of Europe” initiative and even $300,000 a year on alcoholic beverages. The U.S. contributed $5.1 million of funding to climate change programs in developing countries in 2010 and 2011 alone — and the Office of the Inspector General found that some of that money was wasted.

More importantly, the proposed cuts for 2014 non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending came after massive increases in overall State Department funding in previous years. A look at the last three State Department budget requests shows there was plenty of money to spend on global climate change initiatives (GCCI). The State Department requested $57 million for GCCI in FY2011, $142 million in FY 2012 and a whopping $770 million in FY2013.

The bottom line is this: The Obama administration’s inability to defend our citizens against a terrorist attack was due to the State Department’s failure to correctly assess and address the security threat. The real problem was misplaced priorities, not a lack of funding.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.