Ding! Ding! Ding! We can use whatever definition of “transparent” we want? Please, nooooo….

— By Domani Spero

The State Department’s Daily Press Briefing remains the best reality show online, hands down.  Today, we bring you, Marie Harf, State’s Deputy Spokesperson and Matt Lee, the Associated Press correspondent at the State Department for over six years. The two sparred over the word “transparent.”  Ms. Harf says that “we” can use  “whatever definition of transparent we want.”  Mr. Lee disagreed pointing out that he thinks that word only has one definition. Reminds us of the utter confusion  and rhetorical gymnastics employed on whether or not there was a coup d’état in Egypt last July.  Sounds bad to our ears, you, too?

 

 

Below is an excerpt from the DPB transcript:

QUESTION: So then my last one is: When this current President came into office, he and his first Secretary of State spent a lot of time doing what they said was trying to repair what they said was damage done to the U.S. image and reputation abroad during the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency. Are you concerned at all that the weight of these revelations, coming as they are with increasing – seemingly increasing frequency, is negating the – that effort to improve your – the image of the United States abroad? Because it certainly appears that many countries, whether they’re warranted and are justified in feeling this or not, are looking at the United States now as some kind of Orwellian big brother-type outfit.

MS. HARF: Well, I think I’d make a few points. The first is that whether it’s on these alleged intelligence activities, on counterterrorism operations, on a number of issues, this Administration has taken steps to increase the transparency, not as much as I’m sure everybody would like in this room, but certainly whether it’s the President giving speeches about counterterrorism, giving speeches just recently about our intelligence gathering and how we’re reviewing that. We’ve actually taken steps to be more transparent, both to our people but to other countries around the world. So I think that people do look at that as a positive step in the right direction.

But when it comes to specific intelligence matters, we also, I would underscore here, share intelligence with a number of our partners and allies. Intelligence is collected, broadly speaking, to protect our citizens, to protect their citizens as well. So people understand the value of intelligence gathering around the world, right? It’s where the balance lies between privacy and security, and those are the conversations we’re having right now.

QUESTION: Yeah, but people don’t like – when you say that you’re being more transparent, people don’t like what they see when they are being – so just being more – coming out and saying —

MS. HARF: Well, I would disagree a little bit with your notion there. I think people appreciate when the President or the Secretary or other folks come out and say: I know there have been a lot of allegations out there. Here’s what we can say we’re doing, here’s how we’re looking at it. And when we have a path forward, we’ll let you know that as well.

QUESTION: Okay. But you claim to be being more transparent, but in fact you’re not. You’re not at all being transparent. You’re saying that —

MS. HARF: Well, I would take issue with your characterization.

QUESTION: Oh, really? Well, you’re not confirming any of these reports, whether they’re true or not.

MS. HARF: That —

QUESTION: How is that transparent?

MS. HARF: Well, I think we can use whatever definition of transparent we want —

QUESTION: I think there’s only one definition.

MS. HARF: What I would say is that the President has gotten – has stood up. Whether it’s on counterterrorism, he stood at the National Defense University and said: I’m going to talk to you about how we make decisions on counterterrorism operations —

QUESTION: Yeah, but —

MS. HARF: — for the first time.

QUESTION: — it’s either transparent or it’s not. It’s either transparent or it’s opaque.

MS. HARF: Matt, that’s —

QUESTION: Right?

MS. HARF: No, this isn’t a black-and-white issue.

QUESTION: You can’t have —

MS. HARF: That’s not – that’s absolutely not the case.

 

Perhaps Ms. Harf is referring to the use of “transparent” in computing, where it means  “(of a process or interface) functioning without the user being aware of its presence.” Which actually kind of fits given the subject of the tussle.

We’re filing this in our  “Huh? News” folder as It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Not Superman On a Nantucket Boat Or How to Make a Non-News Into Big News.

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New Faces, Old Faces — State Dept’s Office of Inspector General Gets a Make-Over

— By Domani Spero

We were writing our welcome back blog post for State/OIG last week when we noticed that there were new faces and reshuffled desks at the Office of the Inspector General at the State Department.

You may be aware by now that the new IG Steve Linick took office on September 30 but he wasn’t the only one who started fresh at the State Department.  He came to the State  Department with  Emilia Di Santo, his Chief of Staff/Acting Deputy Inspector General for Policy from the Federal Housing Finance Agency-Inspector General’s Office (FHFA-OIG),and David Z. Seide, his Director of Special Projects at the FHFA-OIG.

Emilia Di Santo, Acting Deputy Inspector General

Ms. Di Santo who was appointed Acting Deputy IG on October 1, succeeded Harold Geisel, the Deputy IG who served as OIG boss for the last five years while the State Department did not have a Senate-confirmed Inspector General.

Ms. Di Santo was with the Federal Housing Finance Agency-Inspector General’s Office for two years prior to this month’s move to the State Department. Previous to that, she was the Chief Investigative Counsel for the Senate Finance Committee and was a longtime senior investigator for GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa.  During her time with committee, particularly from 2004 onwards, the Wall Street Journal called the Finance Committee “a chamber of misery for the pharmaceutical industry and medical device makers, using its mandate to stop Medicare fraud as the grounds for many investigations.”  Ms. Di Santo also made news in 2005, when  she was repeatedly attack by someone with an unidentified object believed to be a baseball bat while unloading her belongings at her home in Virginia. The Hill reported at that time that nine staples were needed to close her head wound and that the FBI and Capitol Police investigated the vicious attack amid concerns that the assault was related to her work on the Finance Committee.  We could not locate a follow-up report on that incident.  She did not give interviews, and simply returned to work. Ms. Di Santo had been expected to follow Senator Grassley to the Judiciary Committee but in 2011 she moved instead to the Federal Housing Finance Agency-Inspector General’s Office.

David Z. Seide, Counselor to the Inspector General

Mr. Seide was appointed Counselor to the Inspector General on October 18, 2013.  Previously, he served for almost three years as Director of Special Projects in the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Federal Housing Finance Agency. According to his LinkedIn profile, while in that capacity, he made significant contributions to the work of the Residential Mortgage Backed Securities (RMBS) Working Group. Mr. Seide also spent nearly 12 years as an Assistant United States Attorney in Los Angeles, where he was responsible for the investigation, prosecution and trial of multiple individuals and organizations suspected of engaging in securities and business fraud.

A side note here, Mr. Linick’s former office at Federal Housing Finance Agency worked with the RMBS Working Group and the New York Attorney General’s Office in support of the investigation and prosecution of RMBS fraud cases. On Friday, the WSJ  reported that JP Morgan has reached a tentative agreement of roughly $4 billion to settle Federal Housing Finance Agency claims the bank misled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac about the quality of mortgages it sold to them during the housing boom. Over the weekend, the NYT also reported about a larger tentative settlement over JP Morgan Chase mortgage practices and a potential record of $13 billion in penalty.

Another interesting note  we should add here.  Mr. Linick was FHFA’s first Inspector General. When he came to office in 2010, FHFA accused him of exceeding authority and went so far as to restrict the OIG access to agency documents, shared drive, and instructed employees that they should not communicate with FHF A-OIG without first apprising FHFA management. This guy did not fold.  (See Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) records provided to Senator Charles E. Grassley and Senator Tom Coburn concerning the independence of Inspectors General necessary to promote efficiency and prevent fraud, waste and abuse in agency programs, in response to the Senators’inquiry, 2011-2012, FOIA Request via governmentattic.org)

Two more new appointments:

Karen Ouzts, Assistant Inspector General for Administration

On September 4, 2013, Karen Ouzts was appointed as the new Assistant Inspector General for Administration.  She was previously the deputy at State/OIG’s Office of General Counsel. Ms. Ouzts succeeded David M. Yeutter who was appointed as OIG’s Executive Officer on October 2009. Mr. Yeutter is a Foreign Service specialist who presumably will return to a regular assignment in the Foreign Service.

Norman P. Brown, Acting Assistant Inspector General for Audits

On September 13, Norman P. Brown was appointed the Acting Assistant Inspector General for Audit. He was previously the deputy for the Audit directorate prior to this appointment.  He succeeded Evelyn R. Klemstine who was appointed Assistant Inspector General for Audits in November 2009. State Magazine’s October 2013 issue listed  Ms. Klemstine as newly retired from the Civil Service.

The following officials remain at posts:

State/OIG has 318 employees, more than double FHFA-OIG staff.  About 93% of State/OIG staff are civil servants.  Interesting times, over there.

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Snapshot: Top 10 State Department Assistance Recipients FY2013

Via USASpending.gov

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