State/OIG Terminates Preparation of Report Cards for Ambassadors and Sr. Embassy Officials

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— Domani Spero

We heard recently that the State Department’s Office of Inspector General  no longer issue “report cards” for ambassadors and senior officials at inspected diplomatic missions. Apparently, State/OIG no longer prepare Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) but that there are measures underway to collect input for the performance of chiefs of mission (COMs). One we’ve heard is evaluation of ambassadors by their deputy chiefs of missions and by desk officers.  (Achoooo! May we point out that the chief of mission is also the rating officer of the deputy chief of mission?) We could not verify those measures because DGHR is not responsive to email inquiries from this blog. However, we can confirm that the Inspector General Office stopped preparing Inspector’s Evaluation Reports in April 2013. We should note that the current OIG Steve Linick was nominated in June 2013 and did not come into office until September, five months after this change was put in place

The next question , of course is — was this an OIG decision and if so, why?  This is what we were told by State/OIG:

It was an OIG decision, in part based on the points mentioned below that we will continue to comment on executive direction in the course of each inspection in the published report, and because we have seen progress with implementation of the recommendations in the memo report mentioned before (the 360 reviews noted in our 2012 memo report http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/198810.pdf).

That memorandum report from State/Deputy OIG Harold Geisel to State/M Patrick Kennedy dated September 19, 2012 talks about Improving Leadership at Posts and Bureaus.  We’ve blogged about it here: State Dept’s Leadership and Mgt School Needs Some Leadership, And It’s Not Alone.  As an aside, the U.S. military is reported to be in various stages of ramping up efforts to implement 360-degrees feedback. According to Marine Corps Times, it is currently used as a self-developmental tool and not/not as a part of the formal system of performance evaluation. The report notes that “Even if there is interest among the brass to formalize the process, there may be big legal hurdles to expanding the 360-review process beyond a strictly confidential tool for self-awareness.” (Previous post on 360 feedback used as a bidding tool: Sexing up the 360-Degree Feedback, Revisited and for the heck of it, this one Earth Embassy Ganymede – Administrative Notice #04-011300).

We think that the termination of IER preparation by State/OIG is a step in the wrong direction.

The problem here is simple. Do we really expect to see the OIG reports to be included in the official personnel file  (OPF) used for promotion consideration?  Of course not.  Comments on senior officials performance on the executive direction portion of OIG reports will not go into their official personnel file.   Some of the more egregious sections in OIG reports, we don’t even get to read because they are politely Sharpied out.  Meanwhile, the persons referred to in these reports are sometimes quietly moved to other posts.  In one case, a DCM was allowed to curtail and landed as a principal officer at another post.  Previously, this DCM was a senior officer at country X where he/she is alleged to have “pushed a seasoned FSO he/she supervised so cruelly and relentlessly, that this FSO attempted suicide.” In another case, a senior management officer was allowed to serve out a remaining tour and moved to one of our more dysfunctional posts at the end of the world.   As if that post needed a bump on its misery factor.  We have typically called this personnel movement, the State Department’s Recycling Program.  Of which we were roundly scolded by one reader who suffered the brunt in one case. “To suggest the Dept.‘s recycling program merely ‘stinks’, is to insult Parisian taxis and slaughter house septic tanks, everywhere.” 

OIG’s FY 2012 inspections found that “while 75 percent of ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and principal officers are doing a good to excellent job, 25 percent have weaknesses that, in most cases, have a significant impact on the effectiveness and morale of their posts and certainly warrant intervention by the Department.” Then Deputy OIG Geisel was careful to point out that “The 75 percent/25 percent figures apply to the posts OIG inspected and not necessarily to the Department as a whole.”

And because State/OIG saw “progress” which is not detailed or publicly available, it is terminating the preparation of  IERs for ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and other senior officials.

Is that the kind of accountability that serves the public interest and the employees that work in these missions?

In fact, the Foreign Affairs Manual that dictates the preparation of the IERs for senior managers is still in the books and has not been deleted or superseded by new guidance:

3 FAM 2813.5-1 last updated on November 23, 2012 states that OIG Inspectors will prepare Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) on senior officers (chiefs of mission, permanent chargés, deputy chiefs of mission, principal officers, Assistant Secretaries and deputy assistant secretaries) in connection with each post or bureau inspection. These IERs will be related directly to the officer’s management or supervision of the domestic unit or post abroad being inspected and will constitute a part of the independent review of the operation being evaluated. They will focus on the skills and abilities of rated officers to manage personnel, budgets, resources, and programs. Both career and noncareer officers will be evaluated.

Another section of that FAM cites additional reasons for the preparation of the IERs as follows:

1 FAM 055.6(f) last updated on July 17, 2013 says that IERs may be prepared, at the discretion of inspectors, on any employee for the reasons stated in 3 FAM 2813.5-2, including: (1) To record outstanding or substandard performance that the inspection team leader feels needs further documentation; or (2) To record performance observed during the inspection that noticeably differs from that reported in an employee’s evaluation report prepared by his or her regular supervisors.

What happens to these IERs when prepared by the OIG inspection teams?

“Upon receiving an IER from the inspection team, OIG/ISP designates a panel of three active or retired ambassadors who have been senior inspectors to review the IER. Once approved, the panel sends the IER to the Inspector General. In the case of a career employee, the Inspector General sends it with a memorandum to the Director General of the Foreign Service, requesting that it be placed in the rated officer’s official performance evaluation file. In the case of a noncareer employee, the Inspector General sends it to the Director General to review and send to the Deputy Secretary and White House Liaison Office to forward to the White House’s personnel office.”

So now, since the IERs are no longer prepared, poor performance will no longer be documented and will not appear in the rated officer’s official performance evaluation file. They will appear in OIG reports, which may or may not be redacted, but will not be included in the official personnel file.  The Promotion Boards will have no idea how senior officers manage our overseas missions when those officers names come up for promotion.

Do we really think this a good thing?

Also, the White House is now saved from the embarrassment of learning how some of its “highly qualified” political ambassadors show their deficiencies as stewards of the embassies and representatives of the United States abroad.

One less headache for the Press Secretary to worry about, yes?

The IERs typically are not released to the public. But some of the details occasionally leaks out when cases end up in the Foreign Service Grievance Board. We hope to have a separate blog post on that.

If you value accountability and the proper functioning of the service, you might consider  sending a love letter to State/OIG Steve Linick and asking him to reverse the prior OIG decision of terminating the preparation of IER reports.

Why?

Because … gummy bears!  All teeth, but no bite will have repercussions.

gummy-bears-o

Gummy Bears by Dentt42 via GIFsoup.com

* * *

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Don’t name your sibling charge d’affaires and other zero warranty advice for the road

— By Domani Spero

Late last Friday, the WH released the names of individuals who President Obama intends to nominate as ambassadors to a few cushy appointments in Belgium, Australia, Chile and some not so cushy ones like Cote d’Ivoire, Lebanon, the Lao Republic and others. A week previously, President Obama also announced his nominees for our posts in Spain, Germany, and Denmark.

There’s just enough time for the Senate to hold confirmation hearings before it goes on a summer break. No Paris, London, Tokyo, Luxembourg yet, but they sure will come before much longer.

It  is funny-ha-ha to see the elephant crowd deride the Obama appointments of “bundlers” to ambassadorial posts. We should recall that not too long ago, the donkey crowd also once derided the Bush ambassadorial appointments of “pioneers,” “rangers,” and “super rangers” after two prior elections.

Screen Shot 2013-06-22

Click image to go to AFSA’s Ambassador List

Meanwhile, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) continues to appeal for a bipartisan commitment to a more professional, better trained and better resourced diplomatic service. It also argues that “the appointment of non-career individuals, however accomplished in their own field, to lead America’s important diplomatic missions abroad should be exceptional and circumscribed, not the routine practice it has become over the last three decades.”

Not bad arguments, of course, except that they’re talking to the wall.

The notion that this practice of appointing mega donors as ambassadors is going to end soon or later (when there’s a new administration) is rather absurd.  The reality is both political parties have an interest in perpetuating this practice. So the people who can put a stop to it, will not stop it.

The American Foreign Service Association statistics on ambassadorial appointments indicate that Presidents Carter and Clinton appointed 26.73% and 27.82% political ambassadors respectively, the lowest in the group.  President Carter has the most number of career appointees at 73.27%.  President Ford who was only in office from August 1974-January 1977 topped the appointment of political ambassadors at 38.2%.  President Bush (41), President Bush (43) and President Obama all have political ambassadorial appointees hovering slightly above the 30 percent mark.  (The AFSA stats did not include a tally of President Reagan’s appointments as of this writing).

It must be said that both parties are equal opportunist during elections.  And the results when it comes to ambassadorial appointments following every election reflect that.

Nixon. Remember former President Nixon’s grand jury testimony unsealed in 2011 where he talked about  the selling of ambassadorships? (see Nixon’s 1975 Grand Jury Testimony: No selling of ambassadorships, but gave a price tag of $250K in 1971).

“I would say, looking at the smaller countries like Luxembourg, that Pearl Mesta wasn’t sent to Luxembourg because she had big bosoms. Pearl Mesta went to Luxembourg because she made a good contribution. But may I say she was a very good ambassador in Luxembourg. And when you talk about selling ambassadorships, I don’t want the record of this Grand Jury 11 even to indicate that people of wealth, because they do make contributions, therefore should be barred from being ambassadors.

The record should clearly indicate that certainly no commitment, no sale of ambassadorships should be made, but, on the other hand, the fact that an individual has proved himself on the American scene, has proved himself by legitimately building a great fortune, rather than being a disqualifier is a factor that can be considered and should be considered in determining whether he should get a position.”

In the face of this long and persistent tradition, we think that an outside group such as, perhaps the American Academy of Diplomacy or a similar entity should consider rating ambassadorial nominees as “well qualified,” “qualified” or “not qualified” before they are confirmed. This is what the American Bar Association has done in over five decades when it comes to judicial nominees and it has shown some influence in the Senate confirmation process.  It will not stop presidents from nominating top donors to plum ambassadorships, but perhaps it will encourage more scrupulous care on the vetting of nominees at the WH and at the Senate during their confirmation hearings.

In the absence of that, political ambassadors ought to follow a few straight-forward rules when going overseas — provided unsolicited below with zero warranty, of course:   (Also see WhirledView: A Primer for first-time U.S. political appointee ambassadors)

1.  First, do no harm.

The governing rule of diplomats, like that of doctors, must be ‘first, do no harm’.  When you get into a tough situation, and you will, whatever you do, do not make it worse.  If your post is working well, be a good steward of the mission. If it’s working badly, try your darnest to make it better.  If you don’t like your DCM, think hard before you kick him/her out and ask for a replacement. And whatever you do, do not/do not ask for a replacement DCM every six months; it won’t end well. (See Which Ambassador is planning to unload his/her DCM shortly and other curtailment news).


2.  Try not to be too memorable that you live on in embassy and host country lore.

Retired FSO George West recalls that “President Truman, in his infinite wisdom and on the advice of his wife, sent Perle Mesta to Luxembourg.”  She was known as “The Hostess with the Mostest” and the inspiration of the Irving Berlin musical ‘Call Me Madam.’  To read more about that appointment in 1948-1950, click here for Mr. West’s oral history.

Remember when? Host countries have long memories.  According to Robert Fritts who was previously our ambassador to Ghana and Rwanda:

“I heard lots of unflattering Luxembourg anecdotes, for example, about Perle Mesta, who had been appointed by President Truman. She also lived on in embassy lore as having named her resident sister rather than the DCM as charge d’affaires a.i. when she left post on one her frequent absences. It got straightened out, but the Luxembourgers never forgot it.”


3.  Not all projects are created equal

President Bush’s Ambassador to Italy, Ronald P. Spogli marked his tenure in Rome in a most tangible way. He presided over the wine cellar construction at the Villa Taverna, the 16th century residence in Rome that has served as home for our ambassadors in Italy for the last 75 years. The project which cost over a million dollars was funded and supported by Italian wineries. (See More on Embassy Rome’s Donated $1.1 Million Wine Cellar).

One of the 2009 ambassadorial appointees during President Obama’s first term in office is Bruce Oreck who went to Finland.  He made the renovation of the US Embassy in Helsinki his top project. His persistence “revived a stalled project to renovate the antiquated and unsafe chancery buildings.” (See US Embassy Helsinki: Ambassador Bruce “Biceps” Oreck Launches Innovation Center).

So perhaps a project that fits a need to a T?   Somebody had already tried a Song and Verse Competition, to iffy results.  Another one had personally designed a health campaign, Let’s Live to unrealistic expectations.

4.  Uncle Sam is cheap, be prepared to spend out-of-pocket

In 2008, forbes.com had an article on ambassadors, primarily on the outgoing Bush Ambassador to London, Robert H. Tuttle.

America’s ambassador to Britain, Robert H. Tuttle, was hosting one of his last lavish breakfasts for guests at his residence near the U.S. embassy in London, the morning after Barack Obama’s election victory.
[…]
American ambassadors picked for desirable posts like London and Paris tend to be wealthy as they are expected to entertain guests more extravagantly than the State Department budget might allow. (Tuttle would no doubt have served highest-quality marmalade and croissants at his post-election breakfast last Wednesday, for instance.) “Ambassadors are given representational funds, but some have chosen to use personal funds to go into their own pockets,” an embassy spokesman said.

No one says why some have chosen to use personal funds.  Perhaps that’s because the official representational funds is nothing to write home about?  An NYT article in January 2013 says that “Deep pockets are an unofficial requirement for many postings” and that “in some capitals they can expect to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on entertaining.”

“The expectation is so ingrained that Timothy J. Roemer, a former congressman, felt compelled to bring up his bank account when Mr. Obama named him ambassador to India. “I told the White House and the State Department early on, I can’t afford to do the job like that,” Mr. Roemer said.”

Not to mention the ambassador’s wife changing clothes three times a day. In Paris.

Harold Geisel, the State Department’s Acting Inspector General is a retired FSO. From 1986-1988, he was the management counselor at the US Embassy in Rome where he served under political ambassador Maxwell Rabb. Below from his oral history via ADST:

About two days into my posting I was up to see him and his wife Ruth was there as well. And he started crying to me about how he was, I think, $20- or $30,000 out-of-pocket on his representation. And I looked at him and I said, look Mr. Ambassador. You live in Villa Taverna, one of the most glorious houses in Rome that was once the summer residence of the Holy Fathers. You go all over Rome in a Cadillac limousine with a motorcycle escort to beat the traffic, you have one of the best cooks in Rome and you get a salary of $90,000 a year. I’ll tell you what. If you’re not happy with it, I’ll pay the $30,000 out-of-pocket and take your place. He looked at Ruth and the two of them just started laughing and laughing. And we were great friends ever since and we even became business partners in a partnership after Rome. You have to know the guy you’re talking to. I mean, there are guys who would have thrown your rear end right out of there on the spot.


5. Ambo call home

A WH official reportedly told an ambassador, “You cannot realistically expect the leader of the free world to stop everything to rescue you from bad guys.” Is the direct line to the president overrated?  When political appointees take the short cut to join the diplomatic service and represent the United States of America, even they, must follow the rules, and there are tons of them in/out of the Foreign Affairs Manual.  This includes the landline and other connections that hook them directly to the mother ship with its corresponding multiple hierarchies.  And the mother ship, like it or not, is in Foggy Bottom, not the White House, even if the latter is the appointing authority.  (see WH to US Ambassador to Malta: Don’t Expect Leader of the Free World to Stop Everything to Rescue You From Bad Guys).

6.  Ambassadors charm school maybe helpful but it’s not enough.

WaPo’s Emily Heil recently reported about the ambassadors charm school, currently in session with some quotes from former ambassadors including this one:

One former ambassador says “charm school” is a misnomer for a rigorously educational and informational session. “Trust me, it’s not about china and teacups,” the graduate said. “It’s about the belly of the beast. It’s ‘here’s how it all works.’ ”

Right.  The US Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin described by the 2012 OIG report as a “dynamic and visionary noncareer ambassador” told Nicholas Kralev in March 2013 that the formal preparation process to become ambassador “was not sufficient for the standards he set himself, and that he “interviewed dozens of former ambassadors, took a lot of notes and learned a lot.”

The former ambassador to Sweden Matthew Barzun (rumored to be the front runner as the next US Ambassador to London)  who also got good marks in the OIG inspection report in 2011 told the IG inspectors that although he took the Department’s course for new chiefs of mission, he feels that “it did not adequately prepare him for the work he faced upon his arrival at post.”

New ambassadors get about two weeks of training at the Foreign Service Institute, the State Department’s training facility in Arlington, Virginia.  Then FSI director Ruth Whiteside told Nicholas Kralev that there is no plan to extend the course and that “The expectation is that they (the ambassadors) will be doing individual consultations on their particular post, have briefings at various agencies and other preparations.” She added that FSI’s job is “to give them the maximum chance for success.”

In two weeks.

(o_o)

Still No Junkyard Dog? Senator Cruz Warns He’ll Place a Hold on All State Dept Nominations

— By Domani Spero
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) today released the following statement regarding President Obama’s failure to nominate an Inspector General (IG) for the U.S. Department of State. IGs are congressionally mandated officers who provide independent agency oversight.

The President’s failure to nominate a State Department Inspector General since taking office in 2009 is unacceptable. The position has been vacant for almost 2,000 days. This is a crucial oversight position and should be a priority for an agency facing substantial management challenges.

While several federal agencies are operating without a Senate-confirmed Inspector General, only the State Department has been without a credible and independent Inspector General for so long.

During the last five years, there have been deadly attacks on U.S. diplomatic personnel in Libya, mismanagement of security contractors at our embassy in Afghanistan, and hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars wasted for police training in Iraq. These issues highlight the State Department’s need for an Inspector General as soon as possible.

Until the President acts, I have notified Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that I will place a hold on all State Department nominations.

According to the Project on Government Oversight, the State Department’s Inspector General  has been vacant since January 16, 2008.  At 1,988 days and counting, the vacancy has been the longest unfilled position among the government watchdogs.  After over 600 days of vacancy, President Obama on June 10, 2013 did nominate Michael G. Carroll as the IG for USAID.

State Department sources apparently told The Daily Beast that outgoing Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford might be in contention for the IG job.  We don’t think that’s even permissible because he is still an active FS officer. And if he retires and is appointed IG, he would be in the same status as the current Acting IG Harold Geisel who is a retired FSO.  Ambassador Geisel, by the way, agrees that a Foreign Service officer cannot be an IG.  Below is an excerpt from his oral history interview.  The Sherman he refers to here is Sherman Funk who was named Inspector General for the State Department in 1987.

Q: The idea being to put somebody in who was not Foreign Service.

GEISEL: That is correct.

Q: Sort of, as I think they called it, a junkyard dog.

GEISEL: That’s what Sherman called it. He said his job was to be a junkyard dog. Now, the inspector general act did not require a non-Foreign Service type that was Jesse Helms who attached some legislation to something else that said a Foreign Service officer cannot be the IG. And after having served as the acting IG, I think that was one of the wisest things that Jesse Helms ever put into legislation because it’s impossible for a Foreign Service type who’s an honorable person to be IG when stuff is coming in over the transom about his friends.

Q: Yes.

GEISEL: I had to disqualify myself a few times. I would sign papers, my counsel would say you know this person, you’re going to sign this but you’re just going to see the person’s name but we’re not briefing you on this. Then I would be out of it and I would designate someone else to receive the work and to brief the deputy secretary about it. It didn’t happen too often but it happened.

Yup, the State Department needs a junkyard dog.  It needed that dog yesterday.

The State Department’s Patrick Ventrell says that “the Secretary and the President have identified an excellent candidate for Inspector General for the State Department, and we look forward to the nomination becoming public after the vetting and paperwork process is complete.”

(¬_¬)

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