By Eric Schmitt
Senior House Republicans on Wednesday accused the State Department of failing to hold senior department officials accountable for security failures that contributed to the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year in which four Americans were killed.
"No State Department personnel have been fired or even disciplined," said Representative Ed Royce, Republican of California who leads the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "No one has missed a paycheck."
Mr. Royce's comments opened the first of three hearings this week that the House Republican leadership has scheduled as part of its scrutiny of the administration's conduct before, during and after the attacks on the mission and on a nearby C.I.A. annex on Sept. 11, 2012.
Republicans have accused the administration of ignoring requests from American diplomats in Libya for additional security in the months before the attack and of failing to launch a military response to blunt the attacks once they were under way. They also say the administration has placed blame on midlevel officials for mistakes they say may have extended all the way to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time.
The Obama administration and its Democratic allies on Capitol Hill have rejected these criticisms, arguing that the State Department has moved swiftly to carry out 29 recommendations made by an independent review panel in December to improve security and training. They have accused Republicans of politicizing the attack for partisan gains.
At Wednesday's hearing, Mr. Royce and other Republicans took direct aim at Patrick F. Kennedy, the under secretary for management, whose office oversees diplomatic security, for what they said was a lack of accountability at the department for the failures Benghazi revealed.
Mr. Kennedy responded that the four midlevel State Department officials removed from their posts and placed on administrative leave last December have been reassigned to jobs in which they no longer have "worldwide decision-making authority for security."
"To me that is serious accountability," Mr. Kennedy said.
"Reassignment just doesn't cut it," Mr. Royce said.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, added, "State continues to merely shuffle the deck chairs."
More broadly, Mr. Kennedy said that despite improvements made by the department in the past several months -- including additional Marine Corps security guards and diplomatic security personnel -- diplomacy abroad was an inherently dangerous job.
"We will do everything we can to deter and mitigate the effectiveness of any attack," he said, "but we will not, even with willing and capable governments as our partners, stop terrorists or extremists from mounting attacks against us in all cases."
The independent inquiry into the attack against the Benghazi Mission -- conducted by a panel called the Accountability Review Board that was led by Thomas R. Pickering, a retired senior diplomat -- blamed the State Department's diplomatic security bureau and another department office for failing to coordinate and plan adequate security. The inquiry also found that several diplomatic security officials showed poor leadership.
As a result of the board's recommendations, the State Department by later this fall plans to have dozens of additional diplomatic security agents at high-threat embassies and millions of dollars worth of advanced fire-survival gear and surveillance cameras in those diplomatic posts. It also plans to improve training for employees headed to the riskiest missions.
But diplomats and lawmakers have warned it will take years and billions more dollars to fully carry out the changes called for by Mr. Pickering's panel.
The State Department late last year appointed for the first time a senior official -- a deputy assistant secretary of state -- to ensure that embassies and consulates in dangerous places get sufficient attention.
But a separate review panel, led by Mark Sullivan, a former Secret Service director, concluded this month that with American embassies and consulates facing an increasing threat of terrorist attacks, the diplomatic security office is mired in the department's sprawling bureaucracy and must be elevated in importance. Mr. Sullivan's panel recommended creating a new under secretary job to oversee diplomatic security, a proposal Mr. Kennedy said was under review.
Mr. Royce also raised concerns that a year after the attacks in Benghazi, "not one terrorist perpetrator has been captured or killed, despite the president saying that this was his highest priority."
The Justice Department has indicted suspects in the attack. American intelligence officials have a general idea of where they are hiding, but they have not been captured. Some military and law enforcement officials have grown frustrated with what they believe is the White House's unwillingness to pressure the Libyan government to make the arrests or allow American forces to do so, current and former senior government officials say.
On Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hear testimony from Mr. Pickering and another panel member, Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as from Mr. Sullivan.
A House Armed Services Committee panel will also meet Thursday to examine the military's preparedness to respond to attacks like the one in Benghazi. The same day, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Gregory B. Starr to be the assistant secretary for diplomatic security.