State Department’s $1 Billion Armored Car Program At ‘Significant Risk’ For Abuse

Office of the Inspector General audit

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Thomas Phippen Associate Editor
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The Department of State needs to change its processes for buying and maintaining armored vehicles or risk wasting taxpayer money, according to an audit released Tuesday.

The State Department has spent around $1 billion buying armored vehicles since 1998, and half that spending has been since 2010, the inspector general (OIG) said in the audit, first reported by Bloomberg News.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which manages the armored vehicles at embassies across the world, “does not maintain sufficient accountability for its assets,” meaning that “the armored vehicle program continues to be at significant risk for fraud, waste, and abuse,” the OIG said in its report.

Each armored vehicle the State Department buys costs an average of $150,000, depending on the degree of safety add-ons needed for the vehicle and the make and model of the car. Most armored vehicles are adapted from BMW Cadillac or Chevrolet cars.

The armored vehicle program is supposed to provide “enhanced levels of protection … during periods of increased threat, instability, or evacuation” at foreign posts, and provide security for U.S. dignitaries visiting unstable locations around the world. Many vehicles, however, are sitting idle in the U.S.

The State Department had 259 vehicles stored in U.S. facilities as of May, 2016, and transferred 200 vehicles purchased in 2015 and 2016 to other government agencies, resulting in $26 million that was not returned to the Department.

In addition to the waste and fraud, the armored vehicle program “is not fulfilling its intended mission, which is to ensure overseas posts have a reasonable number of armored vehicles that offer enhanced levels of protection,” the OIG said.

While more than 250 vehicles sit unused in America, “some [overseas] posts do not have a reasonable number of armored vehicles” to provide for the safety of State Department staff. Other posts, like the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, have a vehicle for every two people who work with the embassy, the OIG said.

The OIG listed several recent cases of abuse within the armored vehicle program, including a Bureau of Diplomatic Security employee who helped sell at least 15 State Department vehicles over four years, defrauding the government of $500,000. The same employee also embezzled truckloads of State Department-owned tires and wheels, and sold them illegally.

To improve the program, the Department needs to clarify the management structure, which currently has “lead to ad hoc program management and significant deficiencies,” the audit said.

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