OIG Steve Linick Seeks Legislative Support For Kill Switch on State Dept “Investigating Itself”

Posted: 1:41 am EDT
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The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on State Department management, operations and development held a hearing on April 21 with OIG Steve Linick  on the efficiency and effectiveness of State Department operations.

The video is also available here. Or you can watch here via the SFRC.

Only two senators stayed for the duration of the entire hearing, Senator Timothy M. Kaine of Virginia [D]  and Senator David Perdue of Georgia [R] . It’s quite a change from watching other congressional hearings.  No one was angry or hysterical. No one was tearing up.  The senators seem genuinely interested in hearing what Inspector General Linick had to say. They ask informed, thoughtful questions and follow-up questions. Both have also been hosted overseas during a CODEL or two and have complimentary things to say about the men and women of our diplomatic service.

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin [R] did sit down but just long enough to ask and rail about Benghazi.  Senator Chris S. Murphy of Connecticut D] also came in to question the IG about BBG operations. It sounds like he has a lot of concerns about BBG and is working on efforts to shore up the long floundering red headed step child of global engagement.

IG Linick brought up two main challenges during the hearing, one on the OIG’s IT vulnerability and the other, its interest on getting first dibs when it comes to allegations of criminal or serious administrative misconduct by Department employees. Not “M”, not Diplomatic Security, but for the OIG to get right of first refusal on criminal allegations in the State Department.

Inspector Linick also asked for a flexible hiring authority so the OIG is able to hire retired FS employees and former SIGAR employees. These individuals have the experience OIG needs but they face restrictions under the current hiring authority. We hope he gets it.

We strongly support these asks by the OIG.  The first, because it makes sense. The second, because it’s long overdue.  It will remove the “it depends” mantra over in the Big House.  For the OIG to have real oversight, it should have the right to decide whether to conduct the investigations themselves or not.  That decision should not be left to State Department management. The OIG has already requested that the Department revise its current directives on this, but it doesn’t look like anything happened yet.  We would like to see Congress include this in the State Department congressional authorization.

IG Linick’s prepared testimony is here (pdf). Below is an excerpt:

OIG Network Vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities in the Department’s unclassified network directly affect OIG’s IT infrastructure, which is part of the same network. We noted in our November 2013 Management Alert on information security that there are thousands of administrators who have access to the Department’s computer network. That access runs freely throughout OIG’s IT infrastructure and increases risk to OIG operations. For example, a large number of Department administrators have the ability to read, modify, or delete any information on OIG’s network including sensitive investigative information and email traffic, without OIG’s knowledge.17 OIG has no evidence that administrators have compromised OIG’s network. At the same time, had OIG’s network been compromised, we likely would not know. The fact that the contents of our unclassified network may be easily accessed and potentially compromised places our independence at unnecessary risk and does not reflect best practices within the IG community. OIG seeks to transition to an independently managed information system, which will require the Department’s cooperation and support from Congress.

A footnote on his prepared statement says that DS and the Bureau of Information Resource Management (State/IRM) recently agreed to notify and receive confirmation from OIG prior to accessing OIG systems in “most circumstances. ” 

Right of First Refusal To Investigate Allegations of Criminal or Other Serious Misconduct

Unlike other OIGs, my office is not always afforded the opportunity to investigate allegations of criminal or serious administrative misconduct by Department employees. Department components, including DS, are not required to notify OIG of such allegations that come to their attention. For example, current Department rules provide that certain allegations against chiefs of mission shall be referred for investigation to OIG or DS. However, that guidance further states that “[in] exceptional circumstances, the Under Secretary for Management may designate an individual or individuals to conduct the investigation.”19 Thus, DS or the Under Secretary may initiate an investigation without notifying us or giving us the opportunity to evaluate the matter independently and become involved, if appropriate. Accordingly, OIG cannot undertake effective, independent assessments and investigations of these matters as envisioned by the IG Act.

The directives establishing this arrangement appear to be unique to the Department. By contrast, the Departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, the Treasury (and the IRS), and Agriculture, all of which had within them significant law enforcement entities prior to the establishment of their respective offices of Inspector General (OIG), defer to their OIGs for the investigation of criminal or serious administrative misconduct by their employees or with respect to their programs. Notice must be provided by all agency components to their respective OIGs of, at a minimum, allegations of misconduct by senior employees. In some agencies, notice must be provided of such allegations with respect to all employees. The respective OIGs have the right to decide whether to conduct investigations themselves or refer matters back to the relevant agency component for investigation or other action. However, in some cases, when requested by OIG to do so, the relevant agency component to which the OIG referred back the matter must report to the OIGs on the progress or the outcome of investigations.

Particularly where senior officials are involved, the failure to refer allegations of misconduct to an independent entity like OIG necessarily creates a perception of unfairness, as management is seen to be, as the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) notes, “investigating itself.”*

This risks undermining confidence in the integrity of the Department. Moreover, this arrangement prevents OIG from carrying out its clear statutory duty, set forth in the IG Act, “to provide policy direction for and to conduct, supervise, and coordinate … investigations relating to the programs and operations” of the Department.

Accordingly, we are seeking legislative support—similar to that provided to other OIGs—for early notification to OIG of allegations of certain types of misconduct. In addition, OIG is seeking legislative clarification of its right to investigate such allegations.23 Current Department directives are a barrier to achieving accountable and transparent government operations.

Here is another footnote:

GAO, Inspectors General: Activities of the Department of State Office of Inspector General at 25-26. (GAO- 07-138, March 2007) ([B]ecause DS reports to the State Department’s Undersecretary [sic] for Management, DS investigations of department employees, especially when management officials are the subjects of the allegations, can result in management investigating itself.”); see also OIG’s Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-15-01, October 2014) (Department policies and procedures appear to have significant implications and created an appearance of undue influence and favoritism, which undermines public confidence in the integrity of the Department and its leaders).

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Opposition to George J. Tsunis Nomination as Norway Ambassador Now a Social Media Campaign

— Domani Spero
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On September 10, 2013, President Obama announced a slew of executive nominations including that of George J. Tsunis as his nominee for Ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway.  In January 2014, Mr. Tsunis made an appearance at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see  Senator John McCain’s “No More Questions” at the Senate Confirmation Hearing Gets a GIF and US Embassy Oslo: Clueless on Norway, Murder Boards Next?).

In February, a group of Norwegian-Americans made their opposition to the nomination known (see Norwegian-Americans Petition For Withdrawal of Tsunis Nomination as Ambassador to Norway).  The same day we wrote about their opposition, the SFRC panel cleared the Tsunis nomination (seeSFRC Clears Barber, Bell, Tsunis, Harper, Talwar, Rose, Gottemoeller, Chacon, Carroll).

In April, murder boards became real (see State Department Seeks Contractor For Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions). On August 7, the Washington Times reported that Orlando, Florida-based AMTIS, Inc. was awarded a $545,000 contract by the State Department for simulated congressional hearings and communicating with Congress classes.

Last week, opponents of the Tsunis nomination rolled out a new social media campaign to sink his nomination.  We did not see it until we got poked on Twitter today.   Tom Lundquist who started the original petition asking President Obama to withdraw the nomination posted the following on change.org:

Today looks to have been the first full day of starting out with a never-before-tried social media campaign in this effort to have George Tsunis withdrawn or defeated. An integrated Twitter, Facebook, and Web campaign have been launched!

http://citizensvstsunisdems4compdips.weebly.com/

https://twitter.com/CitizensvTsunis

https://www.facebook.com/citizens.vs.tsunis.dems.competent.diplomats/info

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-26

Twitter profile of Citizens v. Tsunis

 

On its website, the group listed several reasons why they opposed the Tsunis nomination including the following:

Perception of American Incompetence and Arrogance Abroad:

America’s foreign image hasn’t been the best over the last decade or so. Let’s not make it worse. George Tsunis’ wildly inaccurate statements of fact, diplomatic outrages, and lack of qualifications offended a number of Norwegian officials and Members of Parliament, including the mayor of Norway’s capitol city who made it clear that President Obama should send a far more knowledgeable and qualified person. To send Tsunis to Norway would be a fist in the face of a key ally – and an arrogant message to the world. Norway is a vital member of NATO, a key supplier of energy to the EU, an important player in peace efforts in the Middle East, and a strong U.S. ally everywhere. With rising tensions in Eastern Europe and the Middle East the U.S. has to take its diplomacy seriously and treat key allies with respect.

The website also listed the names of four Senators who already made their opposition to the Tsunis nomination known, calling them, Senate Heroes. As well, under the section “Money Bound,” the group listed the names of 9 Senators who were recipients of donations from Mr. Tsunis, urging supporters to email/call the senators and their aides. Check out the Senators Living Dangerously, the Silent Senators, and Our Party’s (Apparent) Worst Enemies. The website also includes the well-circulated clips from Anderson Cooper and the Daily Show.

The group suggests a series of questions constituents should ask their congressional representatives noting that “Until a Senator comes out publicly against the absolute most inane, unqualified nomination the Senate has perhaps yet ever seen, tacit support of Tsunis – and the damage it is doing to our Party and democracy – must be challenged.”

It also adds a carrot for the rabbits in the Senate, “By the Senator making a public commitment to vote against the Tsunis nomination, the Senator’s page here will be removed from this website and the Senator will be promptly added to The Principled Heroes list for all constituents to see.”

Over on Twitter, a new hashtag battle could be brewing — @CitizensvTsunis‘  and what appears to be a parody account by Not George J. Tsunis using the @ambGeorgeTsunis handle with the  hashtag. This could get nasty.

Given the many challenges facing our country these days, we don’t think the White House appreciates this new kind of headache. I mean, who would?  But we also suspect that it would not withdraw the nomination on its own. Once it nominated Mr. Tsunis, the WH is bound to stand by its nominee. The only way we think the WH would withdraw this nomination is if Mr. Tsunis , himself, withdraws his name from consideration.  That might be the most prudent action for Mr. Tsunis to do here. That would give President Obama a fresh start.

Of course, if the Democrats lose the Senate in November, well … maybe none of the nominees will be going anywhere.