WASHINGTON — The State Department plans by late summer to send dozens of additional security agents to high-threat embassies, install millions of dollars of advanced fire-survival gear and surveillance cameras in those posts, and improve training for employees headed to the riskiest missions.
The price tag for the improvements put in place after the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 has reached $1.4 billion to meet the most urgent needs, including additional personnel.
Diplomats and lawmakers say it will take years and billions more dollars to fully carry out the changes sought by an independent review panel that investigated the assault, which killed four Americans and ignited a charged political debate about the Obama administration’s ability to ensure the security of overseas outposts. The panel issued 29 recommendations, five of which deal with classified intelligence issues and were not made public.
The department is racing to fulfill the recommendations as threats against US embassies in Egypt, Yemen, and other hazardous places have sharply increased in recent months. But the department’s ability to correct the security flaws, the financing for it, and the review panel itself, led by veteran diplomat Thomas R. Pickering, have come under attack from House Republicans.
‘‘It remains to be seen how well the State Department implements the board’s recommendations,’’ said Representative Ed Royce, Republican of California, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee. ‘‘But for any changes to succeed, they must embrace responsibility and accountability at senior levels, which hasn’t happened in this case.’’
Even Democrats who have criticized Republicans for what they say is the politicization of the Benghazi episode vow to scrutinize the government’s response. ‘‘We need to make sure they’re following through,’’ said Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the Foreign Affairs Committee’s ranking Democrat. ‘‘We have to make sure there are no future Benghazis.’’
Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday outlined the recommendations from the department panel — known as the Accountability Review Board — that have been put in place. He said that the department had increased training and security personnel, adding Marines to the diplomatic posts that face the highest threats. ‘‘And we’re making sure that their first responsibility is protecting our people, not just classified materials,’’ he said.
Kerry said the department was working with the Pentagon to link embassies and consulates more closely to the military’s regional commands.
President Obama, seeking to regain his footing amid repeated questions over the attack and his administration’s handling of it, sought last week to put the onus on Congress to appropriate enough money for carrying out the board’s recommendations.