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.
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. 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–