The Do’s and Don’ts of Talking to the Press, Congress, and the Path to Blowing the Whistle

Posted: 12:30 am ET
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The Foreign Policy Project produced a podcast in partnership with the Women’s Foreign Policy Network on the do’s and don’ts of talking to the press, congress, and the path to blowing the whistle. The discussion includes an overview of protections available – do you want to disclose openly or anonymously?  What does the process of going to the Project on Government Oversight look like? What tools can you use to encrypt your communications? What should you consider before going to the press? POGO’s Danielle Brian is in the podcast. Check it out.

Check out the rest of the podcasts here: http://theforeignpolicyproject.org/women-in-diplomacy-podcast/.

 

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US Embassy Kabul: Jan 4 Incident is “Getting Lowballed” by US Officials? (POGO)

Posted: 12:29 am EDT
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We’ve recently posted about the attacks in Kabul (see US Embassy Kabul: January 4 Attacks Target USG Employees at Camp Sullivan and US Mission Afghanistan Contractor Survives Taliban Car Bomb, Takes Photo, Quits Job, Goes on Reddit. On January 7, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) asks, Is the US Embassy in Kabul the next Benghazi?

Quick excerpt below:

Based on exclusive photos, videos, and messages the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has been receiving from sources on the ground in Kabul since the housing compound for US Embassy security guards was hit by a bomb on Monday, it is clear that the scope and severity of the blast was significant. However, the US State Department has not mentioned the attack in any of its daily press briefings this week, nor has it provided updates regarding the safety and security of American embassy personnel in Afghanistan. POGO has asked the agency for updated information, but has not received a response at the time of this writing.

An American on the scene at Camp Sullivan, which houses hundreds of US and Nepalese guards, told POGO the blast radius was 100 meters wide and caused a 15- feet deep crater, indicating an explosive charge of at least 2,000 lbs. He said the incident is “getting lowballed” by US officials. A BBC producer in Kabul Tweeted that it was the second largest bomb ever detonated in the Afghan capital.

According to POGO sources on the ground, multiple Afghan nationals were killed (two, according to the Interior Minister) and 11 Nepalese security personnel and one American citizen were injured and flown from the scene. A Kabul hospital reported that nine children were among the wounded in the attack.
[…]

So, how safe are the US embassy and those who defend it?

That’s the question POGO has been asking officials for years at the State Department, Congress, and the Pentagon. Guards defending the facility have long feared that their daily armored convoys to and from the embassy make them sitting ducks for Taliban attacks.
[…]
“If the embassy were attacked, we’d have a huge problem and I don’t want to think about the casualties,” J.P. Antonio, a former medic at the embassy, told POGO in September 2013.
[…]
When a senior State Department official reassured Congress in September 2013 that the the US embassy in Afghanistan was well-protected, POGO challenged the veracity of the centerpiece of his testimony – that the contractors protecting the compound had proven themselves twice in battle – and forced him to correct his testimony when it became clear there were no such tests of the Kabul embassy guard force.

Read in full here.

 

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Why didn’t the State Dept have a permanent IG from 2008-2013? Late, but a senator wants to know.

Posted: 12:13  am EDT
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Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley has been keeping the records folks awake in Foggy Bottom. Last week, he directed his attention on the missing permanent IG at the State Department from 2008-2013. Over two years late but this gotta be good.

The previously Senate-confirmed OIG for the State Department was Howard J. Krongard who announced his resignation on December 7, 2007 and left post on January 15, 2008.  President Obama nominated the current IG Steve Linick in June 2013. The U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination on September 17, 2013 and Mr. Linick officially started work at the State Department on September 30, 2013.  (By the way, on October 1, the federal government went on shutdown and Mr. Linick’s office was one of the very few offices at the State Department whose employees were put on furlough).  The vacancy at the IG’s office lasted more than five years before President Obama’s nominee finally took office.  (See Senate Confirms Steve Linick; State Dept Finally Gets an Inspector General After 2,066 DaysAfter 1,989 Day-Vacancy — President Obama Nominates Steve Linick as State Dept Inspector General).

In any case, Senator Grassley now wants to know why the IG vacancy at the State Department lasted, by official count, 2,071 straight days. Late but okay, we’d like to know, too.  The senator wrote a letter to Michael E. Horowitz, the Chair of Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) and to Secretary Kerry. Excerpt below:

Congress needs a better understanding of how and why the State Department lacked a permanent IG who could serve as an independent watchdog for 2,071 straight days. Accordingly, please respond to the following by September 11, 2015:

CIGIE Chair Horowitz: Assuming that CIGIE prepared a list of recommended candidates to fill the IG vacancy at the State Department created upon the departure of former IG Howard Krongard in 2008:

a. Who were the candidates?
b. When were they recommended?
c. Who sent the slate of recommendations from CIGIE to the White House?
d. Who received the slate of recommendations at the White House from CIGIE?

e. What was the response, if any, from the White House regarding the slate of candidates?
f. Who, if anyone, at CIGIE received the White House’s response?
g. When and how was any such response from the White House received?

h. Please provide all records from any CIGIE official at the time relating to communications with the White House about the IG vacancy or potential candidates to fill the vacancy.
i. Did CIGIE provide candidate names to the State Department? If so, please provide the Committee with all records from any CIGIE official at the time relating to communications with the State Department about the IG vacancy or potential candidates to fill the vacancy.

Secretary Kerry: Please provide the Committee with all State Department records related to the IG vacancy or potential candidates to fill the vacancy, including communications between and among former Secretary Clinton, her senior staff, or any State Department personnel, any CIGIE official, or any White House official.

In the letter’s footnotes, Senator Grassley cites the testimony of POGO’s Danielle Brian on “Watchdogs needed: Top Government Investigator Positions Unfilled for Years, June 3, 2015.”  POGO has previously questioned the independence of the State Department’s acting IG. POGO also published a letter from “very concerned employees” (pdf) dated January 12, 2008 sounding the alarm on the appointment of an acting IG. Senator Grassley is listed as one of the addresses of that letter.

Senator Grassley’s IG vacancy letter cites two cases:

1) The “appearance of undue influence and favoritism” in departmental investigations of three allegations related to Diplomatic Security investigations (see Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security | January 2015 (pdf).

[ As an aside — the original OIG draft/report on DS investigations dates back to 2012 and was made part of the Higbie v. Kerry, a title VII employment discrimination case in Texas. That case was subsequently dismissed by the district court and affirmed by the Court of Appeals (pdf) in March 2015.  But in 2013, the government sought to exclude the “improperly obtained documents” that Higbie obtained via a subpoena from a retired OIG employee, Aurelia Fedenisn. The government asserted that the documents, including the draft report, were improperly retained by Fedenisn after her employment ended in 2012.  We’re reminded of this case in relation to the IG vacancy because the Washington Examiner recently reported that the then acting IG had sought to keep early drafts of a controversial OIG report under wraps in the Higbie case in federal court in 2013. Note that the contents of that draft report have already circulated and were reported on by the press in June 2013].

2) Allegations related to “protected disclosures” at  the U.S. Consulate General in Naples Italy, a case currently in the court system  (see Howard v. Kerry: Court Denies Motion to Dismiss One Retaliation Claim.

Senator Grassley’s letter is available to read here: 2015-08-27 Grassley | CEG to CIGIE and State Dept (IG Vacancy)

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Ann Calvaresi Barr: USAID Gets a New Inspector General Nominee After Vacancy of 1,310 Days

Posted: 12:15 am EDT
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On May 8, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ann Calvaresi Barr, as the next Inspector General for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The WH released the following brief bio:

Ann Calvaresi Barr is the Deputy Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, a position she has held since 2010.  Ms. Calvaresi Barr joined the Department of Transportation as Principal Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Evaluations in 2009.  She served at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management from 2004 to 2009, Assistant Director for Strategic Issues from 2002 to 2004, and Assistant Director for Health Care Issues from 1998 to 2002.  Ms. Calvaresi Barr held several roles as an analyst and senior analyst at GAO from 1984 to 1998, including a five year tour in GAO’s former European Office.

Ms. Calvaresi Barr received a B.A. from Dickinson College and an M.P.A. from American University.

Screen capture from c-span

Screen capture from c-span

Click here for a video of Ms. Calvaresi Barr during a congressional hearing on Amtrak in 2012. If confirmed, she would succeed Donald A. Gambatesa who resigned three and a half years ago after a five year tenure. The OIG position at USAID has been vacant for 1,310 days according to the OIG Tracker put together by POGO (see Where Are All the Watchdogs?)

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State Dept refused to name its SGEs because of reasons #1, #2, #3, #4 and … oh right, the Privacy Act of 1974

— Domani Spero

Last week, ProPublica posted this: Who Are State Dept’s 100 “Special Government Employees”? It Won’t Say.  We blogged about it here: Who Are State Dept’s 100 “Special Government Employees”? Dunno But Is Non-Disclosure For Public Good? Today, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has more on the subject. And after months of giving one reason or another to the reporters pursuing this case, the State Department is down to its Captain America shield  — the Privacy Act of 1974.

Below excerpted from POGO: State Dept. Won’t Name Advisers Already in Government’s Public Database:

They’ve all been selected to advise the State Department on foreign policy issues. Their names are listed on the State Department’s website.

So why won’t the Department disclose that these individuals are special government employees (SGEs)?

For four months, State has refused to name its SGEs, ProPublica reported last week, leaving the public to guess which outside experts are advising the Department on matters that affect the public’s interest.

Yet, the Project On Government Oversight was able to find more than 100 of the advisers identified as SGEs in an online government database. In other words, some of the information that State has been refusing to provide is hiding in plain sight.
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State has refused to identify any of its special employees, even though most agencies contacted by ProPublica were easily able to provide a list of their SGEs.

First, a State spokeswoman told ProPublica her agency “does not disclose employee information of this nature.”

When ProPublica filed a request seeking the list of names under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it was told the agency doesn’t keep such a list, and State’s FOIA office refused to track down the information because it would require “extensive research.”

In September, ProPublica told State it planned to report that the Department was refusing to provide a list of names. In response, State said the FOIA request “was being reopened” and that the records would be provided “in a few weeks,” according to ProPublica.

“The State Department has since pushed back the delivery date three times and still hasn’t provided any list,” ProPublica reported last week. “It has been four months since we filed the original request.”

On Friday, a State official told The Washington Post that the Department is “diligently working to resolve” the FOIA request. The official cited concerns about “maintaining employee protections of privacy.”

State’s posture over the past several months is at odds with POGO’s finding: why can’t the Department give the press the same information it already supplied to a public database?

“Disclosure of certain employee information is subject to the Privacy Act of 1974,” Alec Gerlach, a State spokesperson, told POGO. “That some information may already be publicly available does not absolve the Department of Privacy Act requirements. Whether someone is an SGE is Privacy Act-protected information that we would not release except through the FOIA process.”

However, one of the authors of ProPublica’s story questioned why State hasn’t turned over the requested records. “I think anytime a government agency won’t reveal information, it raises questions about why they aren’t,” Liz Day, ProPublica’s Director of Research, told POGO.

Holy mother of god of distraught spoxes!  Okay, please, try not to laugh. It is disturbing to watch this type of contortion, and it seems to be coming regularly these days from Foggy Bottom.

Seriously.  If this is about the Privacy Act of 1974, why wasn’t ProPublica told of this restriction four months ago? And does that mean that all other agencies who released their SGE names were in violation of the Privacy Act of 1974?

Also, State/OIG was told that “The number of special government employee filers was given as 100.”  A State Department spokeswoman told ProPublica that there are “about 100” such employees.  But what do you know?  The Project On Government Oversight was able to find more than 100 of the advisers (excel download file) identified as SGEs in an online government database. Are there more? How many more?

The list does not include the more famous SGEs of the State Department previously identified in news report.

New message from Mission Command:  “Good morning, Mr. Hunt (or whoever is available). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, involves the retrieval of very Special Government Employee (SGE) names. There are more than a hundred names but no one knows how many more.  They are padlocked in the Privacy Act of 1974 vault, guarded by a monstrous fire-breathing creature from Asia Minor. PA1974 vault location is currently in Foggy Bottom.  As always, should you or any member of your team be caught or killed, everybody with a badge will disavow all knowledge of your actions. This message will self-destruct in five seconds.  If not, well, find a match and burn.”

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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

 

 

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