The Other Benghazi Four: Lengthy Administrative Circus Ended Today; Another Circus Heats Up

— By Domani Spero

They were the bureaucratic casualties of Benghazi.  Diplomatic Security officials Eric Boswell, Charlene Lamb, Steve Bultrowicz and NEA official, Raymond Maxwell were placed on paid administrative leave on December 19, 2012 following the release of the ARB Benghazi Report (See Issa — Kerry Paper Shuffling Saga: What’s With the 7-Month Administrative Leave?).

Today, eight months to the exact day when the four officials were put on ice,  the State Department has reportedly decided to end their administrative leave status.  All  four officials have reportedly been ordered to return to duty tomorrow, August 20 at 9:00 a.m. It is not yet clear what positions they will go back to when they return to Foggy Bottom.   At least one of them, Mr. Boswell already has a successor awaiting Senate confirmation as Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security.

Putting these four back to work, of course, does not answer why they were put on paid admin leave in the first place. But don’t worry. We are confident that the State Department’s spokesman will be able to explain this whole circus to the inquiring public by citing issues of employee confidentiality.

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Meanwhile, the Human Abedin circus appears to heat up without any help from sexting scandal magnet, Carlos Danger.  We should note that we do not believe Ms. Abedin is a Muslim Brotherhood princess sent to infiltrate the United States.  However, we are interested on her special employment arrangement at the State Department following the birth of her child.  The NYT recently reported that the senior Senator from Iowa Chuck Grassley has been asking questions about Huma Abedin’s employment arrangement with the State Department.  The NYT is also curious and fielded its own questions.  The State Department, of course, cited employee confidentiality issues and declined to answer these questions. And that, of course, makes this case even more interesting.

The questions Mr. Grassley and his staff are still seeking answers to include: who in the department specifically authorized the arrangement for Ms. Abedin; who in the department was aware of her outside consulting activities; copies of contracts Ms. Abedin signed with private clients; and the amount she earned from those contracts.

In addition, The New York Times asked the State Department to provide the titles and job descriptions of other individuals the department has permitted to serve in the capacity of special government employee, and whether any of Mrs. Clinton’s other political appointees were given the special designation.

The department has declined to do so, citing issues of employee confidentiality.

The NYT report points out that Ms. Abedin, in addition to being a “special government employee” at the State Department also worked for three other entities:

Ms. Abedin, 37, a confidante of Mrs. Clinton’s, was made a “special government employee” in June 2012. That allowed her to continue her employment at State but also work for Teneo, a consulting firm, founded in part by a former aide to President Bill Clinton, that has a number of corporate clients, including Coca-Cola. In addition, Ms. Abedin worked privately for the Clinton Foundation and for Mrs. Clinton personally.

While Senator Grassley maybe accused of playing politics here, we totally agree with him when he says that “basic information about a special category of employees who earn a government salary shouldn’t be a state secret.”   Further, he also said, “Disclosure of information builds accountability from the government to the taxpaying public. Agencies that lose sight of transparency also lose public trust.”

In a statement to The Times on Sunday, a State Department spokesman said: “Ms. Abedin was invaluable to the secretary and her entire operation, providing a breadth of broad-based and specific expertise from her years in the White House and at the department that was irreplaceable.”

These folks are talking about a special government employee or SGE. The Office of Government Ethics explains:

Congress created the SGE category in 1962 when it revised the criminal conflict of interest statutes. Congress recognized the need to apply appropriate conflict of interest restrictions to experts, consultants, and other advisers who serve the Government on a temporary basis. On the other hand, Congress also determined that the Government cannot obtain the expertise it needs if it requires experts to forego their private professional lives as a condition of temporary service. Since 1962, the SGE category has been used in a number of statutes and regulations as a means of tailoring the applicability of some restrictions.

As defined in 18 U.S.C. § 202, an SGE is an officer or employee who is retained, designated, appointed, or employed to perform temporary duties, with or without compensation, for not more than 130 days during any period of 365 consecutive days. The SGE category should be distinguished from other categories of individuals who serve executive branch agencies but who are not employees, such as independent contractors (who are generally not covered by the ethics laws and regulations at all). Also, although many SGEs serve as advisory committee members, not all members of advisory committees are SGEs.

According to AFSA, the State Department had 104 Schedule C employees in 2012.  However, the personnel statistics we’ve looked at does not specify how many SGEs work at the State Department.  It would be interesting to see how many Schedule C employees also became SGEs and had similar employment arrangements to Ms. Abedin who resigned from State on Feb. 1. If Ms. Abedin became an SGE in June 2012 as reported, and resigned in February 2013, that’s more than 130 days.  It would be shocking, of course, if there are no exemptions to that 130-day rule since Congress made the rule.

The NYT report also cited Ms. Abedin’s response:  “Ms. Abedin, in a letter she wrote last month in response to Mr. Grassley’s inquiry, said she had sought the special status because she had recently given birth to her son and wanted to remain in New York while continuing to work for the department.”

How many other new moms at the State Department wanted that opportunity, too, we wonder?

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