Senate Confirms Steve Linick; State Dept Finally Gets an Inspector General After 2,066 Days

— By Domani Spero

President Obama nominated Steve A. Linick as State Department Inspector General back in June filling a 1,989-day vacancy. (After 1,989 Day-Vacancy — President Obama Nominates Steve Linick as State Dept Inspector General). He will succeed Howard J. Krongard who announced his resignation on December 7, 2007.   Mr. Linick went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 30, 2013 (see video here).  During his confirmation hearing, he made the following pledges:

From a strategic and leadership perspective, I understand that the responsibilities of the position to which I have been nominated are great. Based on the significant issues facing the Department of State, it is clear to me that assuming the leadership role of Inspector General will be challenging and rewarding. I look forward to this task, if confirmed.

If confirmed, I pledge to: 

  • Ensure that the Department of State Office of Inspector General (OIG) is an independent and objective organization that provides timely, robust, fact-based oversight, transparency, and accountability to the programs and operations of the Department of State; 
  • Consult stakeholders regularly (including the Government Accountability Office and affected communities)
  • Efficiently and effectively deploy OIG resources to those areas that present the highest risk to the Department of State; 
  • Collaborate with other inspectors general who have potentially overlapping interests, jurisdiction, and programs; 
  • Ensure whistleblowers have a safe forum to voice grievances and are protected from retaliation; and
  • Aggressively protect taxpayer funds against fraud, waste, and abuse.

 

On September 17, after a wait of almost three months, the Senate finally confirmed Mr. Linick. So for the first time in 2,066 days, the State Department has a Senate-confirmed watchdog.

Today, September 30, will reportedly be Mr. Linick’s first day at work as Inspector General of the oldest executive department in the union.

While we have not been following his work as IG for the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), we understand that he was not shy in questioning publicly the large compensation packages for executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He also told them off the bat that he would be no ordinary Washington regulator.  We are pleased with this appointment as State/OIG primarily because of that and because he is from outside The Building with limited Foreign Service connections.  With him as new watchdog in Foggy Bottom, we hope to see some changes in the way the OIG conducts its business.  We think our wishlist below is pretty reasonable.

1.  Redactions

One of our pet peeves, especially in the last several years is the redaction of OIG inspectors names from publicly available reports posted online.  The controversial OIG report on the IIP Bureau (Inspection of the Bureau of International Information Programs (ISP-I-13-28), similarly was stripped of names on who conducted the inspection.  The copy we were furnished did include the names of the team leader and deputy team leader but the rest of the names of the inspection team members were redacted.

When we inquired from State/OIG about this, we were told:

“It is marked as FOIA Exemption (b)(6) – “exempts from disclosure records or information which if disclosed would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Now, that there alone gave us a terrible headache. The OIG inspectors are conducting official business in the name of the American public. Why would it be an invasion of privacy if their names are revealed?

So we asked “Why”? And this is what we were told by State/OIG:

“There is recent case law that specifically protects inspectors and investigators from having their information disseminated. However, there is concomitant protection for auditors – so, we continue to release their names.”

Protects them from having their “information disseminated” — as if we were asking for their home address.  We just want the names public. So we tried again asking State/OIG for the case law and date that their official FOIA lawyer is citing.

State/OIG who is actually quite good with response time sent us a disappointing reply:

“I’m afraid I don’t have it – and today was her last day.”

Look, there is a a reason why the inspectors’ names should not/not be redacted.  Retired and active FS officers are part of the OIG staff.  Active FS officers who become IG staff eventually has to bid for other rotational Foreign Service jobs.  Since 1978, the Government Accountability has questioned the use of FSOs detailed to the OIG  office since they bid and return to regular FS assignments.

  • In 1978, GAO reviewed the IG’s inspection reports and questioned the independence of Foreign Service officers who were temporarily detailed to the IG’s office and recommended the elimination of this requirement.
  • In 1979, the GAO noted that Foreign Service officers detailed as inspectors for temporary tours of two years and then reassigned to activities which they may recently have evaluated has negative as well as positive aspects.
  • In 1982  GAO continued to question the use of Foreign Service officers and other persons from operational units within the department to staff the IG office. It told Congress that it believes the IG’s extensive use of temporary or rotational staff affects the IG office’s independence because (1) these staff members routinely rotate between the IG office and management positions within the organizations they review, and (2) major decisions affecting their careers are determined by the State Department rather than by the IG office.
  • In 1991, GAO examined whether the Department of State’s Office of Inspector General (OIG): (1) omitted references to itself in an annual oversight report to Congress in a deliberate attempt to conceal internal problems; and (2) inappropriately hired and paid experts and consultants.
  • In 2007 GAO reported to Congress that it continue to identify concerns regarding the independence of the State IG that are similar to concerns they reported almost three decades ago. GAO concerns include (1) the appointment of line management officials to head the State IG in an acting capacity for extended periods, and (2) the use of ambassador-level Foreign Service staff to lead inspections of the department’s bureaus and posts even though they may have conflicts of interest resulting from their roles in the Foreign Service.
  • In 2011, the GAO noted some improvements, specifically noting that while State/OIG continues to assign Foreign Service officers at the ambassador level as team leaders for inspections, four of the six officers are rehired annuitants unlikely to rotate to State Department Foreign Service positions. GAO remains concerned, however, about the OIG’s use of Foreign Service officers and the State Department’s need to rely on acting IGs for extended periods of time.

In 1986, Congress made the State IG a presidentially appointed inspector general subject to the Inspector General Act and prohibited a career member of the Foreign Service from being appointed as the State IG. That change did not prohibit the appointment of a career member of the FS as acting IG or deputy IG.  According to the GAO in 2011, State/OIG implemented a change to the succession planning for acting IG positions to exclude Foreign Service officers.

We have yet to see that in action.

While we have not been able to confirm the relevant case law that State/OIG cited in withholding the identities of inspectors, we were told that this “doesn’t sound implausible.”  Steven Aftergood (@saftergood on Twitter) who runs Secrecy News for the Federation of American Scientists posits that even if such an exemption from disclosure exists (which it probably does), then it would be discretionary, not mandatory.  It means that State/OIG would be “at liberty to disclose it even if there was no compelling legal obligation to do so.”

Given the nature of the assignments/rotations in the Foreign Service, and the persistent questions of potential impairments to independence, we look on Mr. Linick to lean on the side of disclosure. Mr. Aftergood suggests that “such disclosure would be a good practice to adopt, particularly in light of the variability of State OIG career tracks and the potential for subsequent conflicts of interest.” 

2.  Recusals

The GAO report dated April 2011 indicates that to address independence impairments the State/OIG relies on “a recusal policy where Foreign Service officers must self-report whether they have worked in a post or embassy that is subject to an inspection and therefore presents a possible impairment.”  The GAO insist that they “continue to believe that the State OIG’s use of management staff who have the possibility of returning to management positions, even if they are rehired annuitants or currently report to civil service employees in the OIG, presents at least an appearance of impaired independence.”

We have never seen any of the published OIG reports indicate whether any recusal was filed related to an inspection or audit.  We would like to see that information included in State/OIG reports and audits.

3.  A Note on Black Sharpies 

Remember the hard-hitting OIG reports on Luxembourg, Kenya, Malta? All made the news. All also have one other thing in common — the chiefs of mission at these three posts were all political appointees.  Then there were two other OIG reports on Pakistan and Lebanon that caught our attention, both under career diplomats, and both severely redacted, including one that talks about the leadership shortcomings in the front office. (State Dept OIG Reports: Oh, Redactions, Is Double Standard Thy True Name?).  We were told that the redactions in one case had to do with the “geopolitical situation” at one post.  Our main concern about this as we have said here in the past is two-fold: 1) the appearance of a double standard and 2) recycling FSOs with problematic leadership and management skills is not going to make another embassy greener or healthier nor make for better FSOs.  Without effective intervention, they’re just going to make another post as miserable as the last one and impairs the embassy mission and operation. We would like to see State/OIG apply one standard on its reviews of chiefs of mission performance. Not whether they are effective political appointees or effective career appointees but whether they are effective representatives of the President regardless of their appointment authorities.

4. Cobwebs Over Troubled OIG Memo

Finally – remember this past summer when there was a big kaboom in Foggy Bottom ? (See CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal.  The Cable’s John Hudson had an exclusive with Aurelia Fedenisn, a former State Department inspector general investigator Exclusive: Whistleblower Says State Department Trying to Bully Her Into Silence.  Some real serious allegations were made about cases that were reportedly “influenced, manipulated, or simply called off” in the State Department.  State/OIG released a statement to CBS News here.

On June 10, 2013, the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was on the podium answering questions about the CBS report:

QUESTION: First, what – I guess we can begin most broadly simply by asking what comments you have about the report that aired on CBS News this morning concerning State Department OIG Office.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, the Department of State employs more than 70,000 dedicated men and women serving in some of the most challenging environments working on behalf of the American people at 275 posts around the world. We hold all employees to the highest standards. We take allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate thoroughly. All cases mentioned in the CBS report were thoroughly investigated or under investigation, and the Department continues to take action.

[…]

QUESTION: — to borrow a phrase. You stated at one point early in your answer just now that all cases mentioned in the CBS News report were thoroughly investigated but that the State Department continues to take action on them. Did I understand you correctly?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. I did not mean to imply they were – the investigations were completed. Some are in process.

QUESTION: And when you talk about those cases being in process or in progress and action continuing to be taken on them, is that separate from the hiring of outside personnel that you also just referenced?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not a hiring. It’s – it would be an investigation being done by the Inspector General’s Office working with outside law enforcement officers. So I would refer you them for any more specifics on that or how that would work. That’s a decision, of course, they make.

The back and forth went on and on to a point of total uselessness.  But the official spokesperson of the State Department did confirm that all the cases mentioned in the CBS report were “thoroughly investigated or under investigation.”

So imagine our confusion when the State/OIG submitted its Semiannual Report to the Congress October 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013 which was posted online on June 19, 2013?   We could not find any of the eight cases alleged in the CBS news report. None are listed as either an ongoing or a completed investigation in this semi-annual report; they’re not in the report submitted six months earlier either. What happened to them?

The report to Congress ending on March 31, 2013 lists investigations on bribery, theft and embezzlement, false claims, and grant fraud. It includes four investigations under employee misconduct: 1) a DCM repeatedly used his government resources for non-official purposes; 2)  a passport specialist used her official position to access personal information of personal acquaintances from official passport databases; 3) a Foreign Service officer responsible for award and oversight of the grants failed to follow grant policy; and 4) a Department employee who was overpaid for workers’ compensation leave (WCL) after a work-related injury.

Any of that remotely resembles the cases described in the October 2012 memo reported on the news?

The report did include under Congressional Mandates and Requests the following item which also made the news at around the same time as the CBS news:

“On November 2, 2012, OIG received a request from Senator Rand Paul to investigate allegations of staff misconduct at the U.S. Consulate General in Naples, Italy. In its response, OIG noted that the complaints were referred to the appropriate offices in the Department and that the complainants were provided contact information for the offices to which the complaints were referred.”

So —

We would like to suggest that among Mr. Linick’s first order of business, and we expect that he will have a full plate, is to personally look into what happened to these eight cases alleged to have been deep-sixed.  If these cases had been “thoroughly” investigated as claimed, then there should be records.   If the individuals were cleared, there should also be records.  If these allegations were never investigated, or there are no records, then one needs to ask why. Of course, there is another “why” that we are interested in. Why would a retired investigator of the Service turn against her old office in the most public way?

How aggressively Mr. Linick tackle these cobwebs and get some answers would help tell us what kind of junkyard dog he is going to be.

Whew! That’s sorta long. We’ll stop here and get some sleep and see what happens, okay?

(o_o)

Related reports:

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GAO Examines Foreign Service Promotion Process — Strengthened But Documentation Gaps Remain

◉  By Domani Spero

 

Congress tasked the Government Accountability Office to look into the State Department’s Foreign Service promotion process.  The GAO conducted a performance audit from July 2012 to July 2013.  According to the July 2013 report, the audit addresses actions taken by State since March 2010 to help ensure the Foreign Service promotion process operates with fairness and integrity. The report examines (1) State’s process for ranking and promoting Foreign Service personnel, (2) procedural changes State has made to its Foreign Service promotion process in response to identified concerns, and (3) the extent to which updated procedures were consistently followed in 2011 and 2012 and whether any notable concerns about the promotion process remain.

Here is the audit’s conclusion:

State’s Foreign Service promotion process is conducted within the context of an up-or-out system and the practice of identifying a set percentage of staff each year for possible separation from the Service. Within an organizational culture that emphasizes performance and career advancement, safeguards to ensure the fairness and integrity of the promotion process are of particular importance. While we found that State had responded to previously identified concerns about its Foreign Service promotion process and taken a number of actions to strengthen internal controls over the process, documentation supporting the full implementation of these controls was sometimes missing. For example, we found that many selection board member oaths were missing from 2012 selection board reports and some boards did not include documentation of recusal requests. In the absence of a fully documented system of controls, there is a risk that intentional or unintentional failures to implement safeguards, by board members or HR staff, will go undetected and uncorrected. A failure to implement safeguards, in turn, increases the risk that promotion results could be intentionally or inadvertently compromised.

Screen Shot 2013-07

The GAO recommends the following:

To improve and better document State’s compliance with key safeguards governing the Foreign Service promotion process, we recommend that the Secretary of State instruct the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of the Human Resources Office of Performance Evaluation to take steps to ensure that selection board, performance standards board, and reconstituted board reports are complete and fully document compliance with internal controls, including but not limited to signed oaths and recusal memos.

Some details

According to the GAO, the State Department prompted by concerns identified by the OIG and Foreign Service Grievance Board in 2010,  took a number of actions to strengthen procedures governing selection boards and reconstituted boards as follows:

  • New Board Member Oath
  • Revised Recusal Procedures
  • Updated Procedures for Reconstituted Boards
  • Renewed Emphasis on Certifying Board Results
  • Discontinued Annotation of Promotion Lists
  • More Nonspecialists to Serve on Specialists Boards
  • New Procedural Manual for HR Staff

Documentation Gaps

We found that selection boards, performance standards boards, and reconstituted boards complied with many updated procedures in the 2011 and 2012 Foreign Service promotion cycles; however, some selection boards and reconstituted boards had documentation gaps for certain internal controls.[…]  We found that some board reports, which constitute the master record of proceedings, had a number of documentation gaps. As shown in figure 2, there were several instances of missing oaths and incomplete documentation of recusals among the 41 selection boards we reviewed. For example, we found that 2012 selection board reports did not include 45 of 122 required signed oaths from members, or nearly 40 percent of the required total. Subsequent to our file review, State officials provided a portion of these missing oaths and other missing documents from ancillary records.

Discrepancies Explained

We also checked for discrepancies between boards’ rank-ordered promotion lists and official promotion announcements and found a total of 74 names recommended for promotion in 2011 and 2012 selection board reports that did not appear on corresponding promotion announcements. State officials explained that these individuals were not included on promotion lists due to requirements outlined in the FAM relating to the (1) permanent removal of names from promotion lists due to personnel actions such as retirement, and (2) temporary removal of names from promotion lists due to outcomes of the vetting process described earlier. State provided documentation to account for each removed name.

Three Specific Boards

  • Our online data collection tool revealed a limited number of procedural concerns relating to the operations of three specific boards. Our online tool was designed to provide board members with an opportunity to identify whether they observed any actions, behaviors, or concerns that could have compromised their board’s integrity and fairness. Our online tool was sent to 293 of 298 members who served on the 2011 and 2012 selection boards, 2011 and 2012 performance standards boards, and reconstituted boards since October 2011.23 We received 206 completed forms.24 From this total, two responses identified a total of four concerns with the operation of a board in 2011 or 2012. One response claimed that a board member had refused to follow precept instructions to consider candidate service in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan in a favorable light.25
  • The same response noted that the board did not follow proper recusal procedures in all cases. The second response claimed that an “HR official” had inappropriately instructed a board member. The same response noted that the board did not follow proper recusal procedures in all cases. We obtained permission from one respondent to provide the respondent’s two concerns to State’s HR staff and the OIG for further review and follow-up as appropriate.

Footnote on the report says that “According to State, since January 2011, no State employee has filed a procedural complaint relating to State’s Foreign Service promotion process through the Office of Special Counsel, and one State employee has filed such a complaint through the District Courts.” (That court case is presumably Joan Wadelton’s — See Joan Wadelton’s Appeal Makes it to FSGB 2011 Annual Report to Congress and  Joan Wadelton’s Case: That’s One Messy Promotion Scorecard, Next Up – It’s GAO Time!)

👀

Related item:

State Department Has Strengthened Foreign Service Promotion Process Internal Controls, but Documentation Gaps Remain GAO-13-654

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18 State Dept Accountability Review Boards Convened Since 1986 – Only Two Publicly Available

We recently located a GAO report (see State Department Has Not Fully Implemented Key Measures to Protect U.S. Officials from Terrorist Attacks Outside of Embassies GAO-05-642, May 2005) listing the previous Accountability Review Boards convened  from 1986 when the ARB was first mandated under the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986. As of March 2005 when the GAO report was made, 11 Accountability Review Boards had been convened. Of that 11 ARBs, five investigations have focused on attacks of U.S. officials on their way to work. The remaining remaining six ARBs were on attacks against U.S. facilities.

1.  Honduras.  April 1988 attack on U.S. facilities in Honduras

2.  Greece. June 1988 assassination of a post official in Greece

3.  Philippines. April 1989 assassination of a post official in the Philippines

4. Bolivia. 1990 attack on a U.S. facility in Bolivia

5.  Peru.  1992 attack on the Ambassador’s residence in Peru

6. Saudi Arabia. 1995 attack on a U.S. facility in Saudi Arabia

7. Pakistan. March 1995 assassination of two post officials in Pakistan  (Karachi, ARB convened 4/1995)

8. Kenya and Tanzania. 1998 bombings of U.S embassies in Kenya and Tanzania
(unclassified report available online)

9. Jordan. October 2002 assassination of a post official in Jordan
(On 27 Jan 2003, an Accountability Review Board was convened for the Murder of Laurence Foley, USAID Official in Amman, Jordan)

10. Gaza.  October 2003 assassination in Gaza of three post contractors from Israel.
(ARB completed in 2004)

We dug up some more from the Federal Register last year.  Two other ARBs (noted below) were located by The Skeptical Bureaucrat.  The State Dept said that there had been 18 ARBs convened since the statute was passed. We only have 16 on this list. Do feel free to add in the comment section if you know about the other two ARBs unlisted here.

11. Iraq.  On February 28, 2005 Convening an Accountability Review Board for the November 24, 2004 Murder of Mr. James C. Mollen, an Employee of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq (h/t The Skeptical Bureaucrat)
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2005-03-07/pdf/05-4358.pdf

12.  Saudi Arabia.  On 11 Mar 2005, the Accountability Review Board for the December 6, 2004 Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
(Review of Department of State Implementation of Jeddah Accountability Review Board of Recommendation to Consider Remote Safe Areas at Missions Worldwide, OIG, March 2013)

13. Iraq. On May 10, 2005 Convening an Accountability Review Board for the January 29, 2005, Rocket Attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, Which Caused the Deaths of LCDR Keith Taylor, USN, and Ms. Barbara Heald. (h/t The Skeptical Bureaucrat)
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2005-05-18/pdf/05-9910.pdf

14. Iraq. On 8 December 2005, the Accountability Review Board to Examine the Circumstances of the Death of DS Special Agent Stephen Sullivan and Seven Security Contractors in September 2005 in Iraq.

In October 2005 ARB Exemption for incidents in Afghanistan and Iraq: Pursuant to Public Law 109-140 and Public Law 111-117, the Secretary of State is not required to convene a Board in the case of an incident involving serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at or related to a U.S. Government mission in Afghanistan or Iraq and which occurs in the period beginning on October 1, 2005 and ending on September 30, 2010 ( see 12 FAM 033.1)

15.  Pakistan.  On May 2006  an Accountability Review Board To Examine the Circumstances of the Death of David E. Foy and Mr. Iftikhar Ahmed in March 2006, Karachi, Pakistan

16. Sudan.  On 14 April 2008, Secretary Rice convened an ARB to Examine the Circumstances of the Death of John M. Granville and Abdelrahman Abees in Khartoum, Sudan in January 2008.

17. Pakistan.  On 22 October 2010, Secretary Clinton convened the first ARB during her tenure relating to the Death of Three DoD Personnel Assigned to the U.S. Embassy’s Office of Defense Representative Pakistan (ODRP) on February 3, 2010

18.  Libya. On October 4, 2012, Secretary Clinton convened the Accountability Review Board to Examine the Circumstances Surrounding the Deaths of personnel assigned in support of the U.S. Government mission to Libya in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012
(unclassified report available online)

As far as we are able to tell, the OIG had only twice previously reviewed the ARB recommendations  and  both were on ARB Jeddah.  In February 2009, the OIG reviewed the State Dept’s progress towards the installation of mantraps at U.S. diplomatic posts worldwide. Not clear from the 2-page report if this was one of the recommendations by ARB Jeddah but the 2004 incident, according to the IG, prompted the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), in coordination with the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) to initiate a program to install pedestrian barriers, or “mantraps,” at all diplomatic posts worldwide.

On April 15, 2013, a 5-page IG report dated March 31, 2013 on the “Review of Department of State Implementation of Jeddah Accountability Review Board of Recommendation to Consider Remote Safe Areas at Missions Worldwide” was posted online.

We don’t know what type of classification these ARBs carry, but if the intent of having an accountability review is to learn the lessons from these attacks, it seems odd that the ARBs even from the 1980s are still under wraps.  We understand that the non-public reports are not even available to DS agents and Regional Security officers.  How can that be?

 

Thanks to TSB and A.Cog for helping us complete this list!  

— DS

 

 

Quickie: The State Department Needs a Watchdog—Now, Not Later (The Atlantic)

D.B. Grady, coauthor of Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry and online at dbgrady.com pens an April 23 article for The Atlantic on the many dysfunction at the State Department. The article specifically highlights State’s lack of permanent IG and the case of former FSO, Joan Wadelton (with links to this blog). Quick excerpt below:

The U.S. Department of State has not had a permanent, Senate-confirmed inspector general (IG) since 2008. This is the longest vacancy of any of the 73 inspector general positions in government, and the effects of this are all but impossible to ignore. Whether it’s the boondoggle that is the Jeddah New Consulate Compound, or the tragic attacks in Benghazi, the “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” (as an independent panel called it) of the State Department are in need of repair. That’s not going to happen until an IG candidate is found, vetted, and installed.

To understand the importance of the position, it’s useful to look at what the job entails. A good inspector general is an agency’s fail-safe. A bureaucracy will always operate in its own self-interest. Budgets, portfolios of responsibility, head-counts, and independence from oversight are prime motivators for any organization. Accordingly, the leadership of the little kingdoms within a bureaucracy will always work to protect and perpetuate themselves.
[…]
After Wadelton and others approached Congress to correct these problems, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Howard Berman, the Ranking Member, signed a bipartisan letter to the GAO tasking it with following up on the 2010 Inspector General’s report and reporting back whether had been fixed. In July 2012, the GAO began its investigation, which is still ongoing. Wadelton was one of the first people that they interviewed.

Continue reading, The State Department Needs a Watchdog—Now, Not Later

Really glad to see that Congress is paying attention and that the GAO is once more taking a look. (see  Joan Wadelton’s Case: That’s One Messy Promotion Scorecard, Next Up – It’s GAO Time!  We’ll also be in the lookout for the resolution of the court case, Wadelton v. Clinton et.al and the results from the GAO.

— DS

Related articles

 

 

 

 

State Dept Tops Chief Watchdog Vacancy Club – 1,546 Days and Counting

POGO’s Jake Wiens calls it an “inglorious membership” with the club’s longest serving member,  the State Department OIG having a leadership vacancy streak of 1,546 days and counting.

Since assuming office, the Obama Administration has not bothered to put in a Senate confirmed Inspector General for the State Department.  The current Deputy Inspector General, Harold W. Geisel, was appointed to office by Secretary Rice on 06/02/2008. There is no current IG nominee waiting in the wings or stuck in Senate confirmation. The last State IG confirmed by the Senate was Howard J. Krongard.  According to LAT, Mr. Krongard was “accused of improperly interfering with investigations into private security contractor Blackwater USA and with other probes” and resigned in December 2007.  If you have forgotten about that incident, see more about the Ballad of Cookie and Buzzy here to refresh your memory.

Via POGO:

Offices of Inspector General (OIGs) are the public’s primary bulwarks against waste, fraud, and misconduct within federal agencies—but without a permanent leader to spearhead their operations, they’re much less effective. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the President is failing to nominate watchdogs to lead these offices in a timely manner.

To date, permanent IG positions at twelve different agencies remain unfilled. Seven of these positions—including those in major departments such as the Department of Justice and Department of the Interior—have been vacant for over a year. The most troubling case is the State Department, which hasn’t had a permanent IG since the days of the last presidential election.

State’s oversight of contractors has inspired little confidence, given scandals like “Spring Break in Kabul,” where there was a serious breakdown of discipline among private security personnel defending the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. Now, the Department faces an unprecedented diplomatic mission in Iraq, and must oversee a massive influx of contractors to the country. Without a permanent IG, the opportunity for misconduct and waste is great.

POGO has put together a page to Tell Obama to Stop the Foot-Dragging and Nominate a State Dept. Watchdog.

This is not the first time that POGO has called for the appointment of a permanent IG for the State Department. In 2010, POGOo wrote a letter to President Obama and raised questions about Deputy IG Geisel’s personal ties to State Department management.

“Of particular concern is Geisel’s relationship with State Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy. Kennedy “is responsible for the people, resources, facilities, technology, consular affairs, and security of the Department of State,” according to his State Department biography.[26] The matters under his purview are the types of issues routinely investigated and audited by any independent and effective IG.”

Click here to read POGO’S Nov 18, 2010 letter to the White House.  POGO also posted a purported email between Deputy IG Harold Geisel and State’s Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. Read it here, you’ll probably think it’s a tad cozy.

The concern about the State IG’s independence and effectiveness is nothing new.  The Government Accountability Office had raised this issue in 2007 and in spring 2011 had brought it up again during a congressional hearing.   Specifically, the GAO points to the appointment of management and Foreign Service officials to head the State OIG in an acting capacity for extended periods of time as not consistent with professional standards for independence.

“[T]he use of Foreign Service officers at the ambassador level to lead OIG inspections resulted in, at a minimum, the appearance of independence impairment.”

GAO also reported that “inspections, by design, are conducted under less in-depth requirements and do not provide the same level of assurance as audits.” However, the OIG relied on inspections rather than audits to provide oversight coverage, resulting in gaps to the audit oversight of the department.

Here is a rundown of the oversight history at State (via GAO):

The State OIG is unique among federal inspectors general in its history and responsibilities due to a statutory requirement for the OIG to provide inspections of the department’s bureaus and posts worldwide. From 1906 until 1957, inspections were to be carried out at least once every 2 years and were viewed as a management function, and not a function of an independent inspector general. In 1957, the State Department administratively established an Inspector General of Foreign Service, which was the first inspector general office within the State Department to conduct inspections. Congress enacted legislation in 1961 and in 1980 creating statutory inspectors general who were tasked with performing inspections on certain State Department activities. In 1978, GAO reviewed the IG’s inspection reports and questioned the independence of Foreign Service officers who were temporarily detailed to the IG’s office and recommended the elimination of this requirement. 6 The 1980 legislation, section 209(a) of the Foreign Service Act, required the State IG to inspect every foreign service post, bureau, or other operating unit in the State Department at least once every 5 years.

In 1982, we reviewed the IG’s operations and noted that the 5-year inspection cycle led to problems with the IG’s effectiveness by limiting the ability to do other work.7 In addition, we continued to question the use of Foreign Service officers and other persons from operational units within the department to staff the IG office. In 1986, reacting to concerns similar to those expressed in our 1982 report, Congress made the State IG a presidentially appointed inspector general subject to the Inspector General Act and prohibited a career member of the Foreign Service from being appointed as the State IG. Starting in 1996 and continuing until today, Congress, in the Department of State appropriations acts, annually waives the 5-year statutory requirement for inspections. However, while the inspection requirement is waived annually by Congress, the State IG continues to conduct inspections as part of its plan for oversight of the department.

In March 2007, we reported on two areas of continuing concern regarding the independence of the State OIG. These concerns involved the appointment of management officials to head the State OIG in an acting capacity for extended periods of time and the use of Foreign Service staff to lead State OIG inspections. These concerns were similar to independence issues we reported in 1978 and 1982 regarding Foreign Service officers temporarily detailed from program offices to the IG’s office and inspection staff reassigned to and from management offices within the department. In response to concerns about personal impairments to the State IG’s independence, the act that created the current IG office prohibits a career Foreign Service official from becoming an IG of the State Department.13

Another independence concern discussed in our March 2007 report is the use of Foreign Service officers to lead inspections of the department’s bureaus and posts. We found it was State OIG policy for inspections to be led by ambassador-level Foreign Service officers. These Foreign Service officers frequently move through the OIG on rotational assignments. As Foreign Service officers, they are expected to help formulate, implement, and defend government policy which now, as team leaders for the IG’s inspections, they are expected to review. These officers may return to Foreign Service positions in the department after their rotation through the OIG which could be viewed as compromising the OIG’s independence. Specifically, the appearance of objectivity is severely limited by this potential impairment to independence resulting in a detrimental effect to the quality of the inspection results.
[…]
[T]he Deputy IG stated that having Foreign Service officers with the rank of ambassador as team leaders is critical to the effectiveness of the inspection teams. OIG officials stated that there are currently six Foreign Service officers at the ambassador level serving as the team leaders for inspections, four of whom are rehired annuitants working for the State OIG. To address independence impairments the State OIG relies on a recusal policy where Foreign Service officers must self-report whether they have worked in a post or embassy that is subject to an inspection and therefore presents a possible impairment. Further, State OIG officials noted that the team leaders report to a civil service Assistant IG and the inspection teams include other members of the civil service. We continue to believe that the State OIG’s use of management staff who have the possibility of returning to management positions, even if they are rehired annuitants or currently report to civil service employees in the OIG, presents at least an appearance of impaired independence and is not fully consistent with professional standards.

In its testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in April last year, Mr. Geisel told Congress that the exclusion of management staff from IG jobs is not in the “best interests of OIG or the Department.”

“As OIG stated in its 2007 response to GAO, to eliminate from consideration all Civil Service officers with State Department management careers would unduly restrict OIG’s ability to consider the broadest number of highly qualified candidates. In fact, the Foreign Service Act (22 U.S.C. § 3929 (a) (1) lists “knowledge and experience in the conduct of foreign affairs” as a qualifying factor for potential IGs. In sum, we believe we have complied with all but the last part of GAO’s third recommendation, which we do not agree is in the best interests of OIG or the Department.”

And right there, we think is the crux of the problem. As an independent entity, he should have said “which we do not agree is in the best interests of OIG” period.   Because surely, the State Department can look after its own interest?

We are a first line consumer of State OIG reports.  And we agree with POGO that the State Department should have a permanent IG. And as long as Foreign Service Officers and other management staff rotates to assignments in the OIG, we also think that it should not have the names of the members of the inspection teams redacted in publicly available reports.  If its recusal policy works, there is no reason why the public should not know who inspected which post when.

Update 4/18/2012 @11:05 pm:

One of our readers,  John Q Inspector wrote to tell us that “while the lack of a confirmed IG is inexplicable, Harry Geisel has done a super job of revitalizing a thoroughly demoralized organization after Krongard.  We don’t pull punches, and he keeps telling us not to.”  

That’s good to know–

Domani Spero