Hillary Clinton says budget cuts undermine diplomatic security

Hillary Clinton says budget cuts undermine diplomatic security

Credit: (Molly Riley/UPI via Newscom)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jan. 23, 2013.




Posted on January 23, 2013 at 1:07 PM

(ABC NEWS) -- Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood her ground Wednesday, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she has overseen plans to secure diplomatic outposts around the world while cuts in State Department funding undermine those efforts.

Citing a report by the department's Accountability Review Board on the security failures that led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, during an attack last year, Clinton said the board is pushing for an increase in funding to facilities of more than $2 billion per year.

"Consistent shortfalls have required the department to prioritize available funding out of security accounts," Clinton told the Senate this morning, while again taking responsibility for the Benghazi attack. "And I will be the first to say that the prioritization process was at times imperfect, but as the ARB said, the funds provided were inadequate. So we need to work together to overcome that."

Clinton choked up earlier in discussing the Benghazi attack.

"I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews," Clinton said this morning, her voice growing hoarse with emotion. "I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters."

Clinton is the only witness giving long-awaited testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee right now, and will appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee at 2 p.m.

The secretary, who postponed her testimony in December, started today by giving context to the terrorist attack.

"Any clear-eyed examination of this matter must begin with this sobering fact," Clinton began. "Since 1988, there have been 19 Accountability Review Boards investigating attacks on American diplomats and their facilities."

But the secretary did not deny her role in the failures, saying that as secretary of state, she has "no higher priority and no greater responsibility" than protecting American diplomats abroad like those killed in Benghazi.

"As I have said many times, I take responsibility, and nobody is more committed to getting this right," Clinton said. "I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger and more secure."

Clinton testified that the United States needs to be able to "chew gum and walk at the same time," working to shore up its fiscal situation while also strengthening security, and she refuted the idea that across-the-board cuts slated to take place in March, commonly referred to as sequestration, were the way to do that."

"Now sequestration will be very damaging to the State Department and USAID if it does come to pass, because it throws the baby out with the bath," Clinton said.

While the State Department does need to make cuts in certain areas, "there are also a lot of very essential programs … that we can't afford to cut more of," she added.

More than four months have passed since the attack killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Libya. These meetings, during which Clinton discussed the report on State Department security failures by the Accountability Review Board, were postponed because of her recent illness.

Clinton told the Senate that the State Department is on track to have 85 percent of action items based on the recommendations in the Accountability Review Board report accomplished by March, with some already implemented.

 The report led the State Department to relieve three employees of their posts -- while a fourth resigned -- because of "systemic failures and leadership deficiencies at senior levels in securing the compound."

The departing staffers are still on administrative leave, however, meaning they are still State department employees.

Clinton testified briefly before the Senate less than two weeks after the attack, an appearance that received considerable criticism from conservatives.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Clinton told the Senate "nothing" at that hearing.

"We were told absolutely nothing, all because it's an investigation going on," McCain said on the Senate floor Sept. 21, 2012.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is presiding over the hearing on the Senate side, in place of out-going committee chair Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., whom President Obama has nominated to take over Clinton's position as secretary of State.

Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will preside over the afternoon hearing.

This won't be Clinton's last trip to Capitol Hill. At the end of the Senate hearing, Menendez said that Clinton would be one of the people introducing Sen. Kerry at his confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee Thursday.

ABC News' Dana Hughes contributed to this report. Click here for more about this story from ABC News.