Posted: 3:11 am EST
On February 13, 2019, Acting DHS/OIG John V. Kelly wrote a memo to DHS Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen concerning DHS Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Christine Ciccone’s “failure to cooperate with Inspector General review.” Prior to moving to DHS, Ms. Ciccone served as deputy chief of staff to then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (also see Tillerson’s Redesign Chief Leaves Office After Three Months, Meet the New Redesigner-in-Chief; Rex Tillerson’s Inner Circle Photo Album, Say Cheese Con Quezo!
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, joined by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, left, and Deputy Chief of Staff Christine Ciccone, prepare for a meeting with U.S./Alaska Permanent Participants to the Arctic Council in Fairbanks, Alaska, on May 10, 2017. [U.S. Air Force photo / Public Domain]
DHS/OIG Kelly also formally recommended that Secretary Nielsen “take appropriate disciplinary action against Ms. Ciccone for failing to cooperate with an Inspector General review.” Excerpt from memo
Beginning in September 2018, our colleagues at the Department of State Office of Inspector General (State OIG) have been attempting to interview Ms. Ciccone. At the request of several congressional committees,1 State OIG is reviewing allegations of prohibited personnel practices that occurred while Ms. Ciccone was the State Department’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Ms. Ciccone is a key witness in State OIG’s review; however, she has been unwilling to schedule an interview despite repeated requests made to both her and her attorney over many months.
Pursuant to the Inspector General Act (IG Act), we have assisted State OIG in attempting to schedule an interview with Ms. Ciccone and have enlisted Acting Deputy Secretary Grady in our efforts. We very much appreciate the Deputy Secretary’s assistance and her instruction to Ms. Ciccone that she must participate in the interview. However, as of today, Ms. Ciconne has not scheduled a time to meet with State OIG staff. On Monday February 11, 2019, staff from State OIG, along with DHS OIG Deputy Inspector General Jennifer Costello, met with congressional staff to inform them of Ms. Ciccone’s failure to cooperate.
DHS has implemented the requirements of the Act in DHS Management Directive 0810.1, which in part states that DHS employees will be subject to disciplinary action if they refuse to provide documents or information or to answer questions posed by the OIG. Ms. Ciccone’s handling of this situation is not consistent with her obligations as an employee under this directive. Further, Ms. Ciccone’s refusal to comply with State OIG’s request for an interview sets a dangerous precedent contrary to the fundamental tenants of the IG Act, with the potential to undermine our critical oversight function. Therefore, I recommend that you take appropriate disciplinary action against Ms. Ciccone under Management Directive 0810.1.
The HFAC statement notes that this review relates to the “ongoing State Department Office of Inspector General review of allegations of politically-motivated retaliation against career State Department employees.”
The HFAC statement provides a background:
- Multiple whistleblowers have contacted our Committees to call attention to allegations of politically-motivated personnel actions during Ms. Ciccone’s tenure as Deputy Chief of Staff at the State Department. Chairman Cummings, Chairman Engel, and Ranking Member Menendez reported these practices to State OIG in multiple letters in 2018, as well as in letters to and hearings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
- State OIG opened a review of politically-motivated personnel practices in response to congressional requests.
- During the pendency of the Inspector General’s review, Ms. Ciccone left the State Department to join the Department of Homeland Security as the Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs. Though she left her position at the State Department, she remains in federal service and is obligated to cooperate with the Inspector General’s inquiry, per the terms of her home agency’s management directive requiring that all agency employees fully cooperate with OIG reviews.
- On February 11, 2019, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Oversight Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee received a briefing from State OIG regarding Ms. Ciccone’s refusal to submit to State OIG’s interview requests. State OIG stated that it was in possession of documentary evidence demonstrating Ms. Ciccone’s involvement in personnel actions against at least three career employees, but was unable to complete its review without Ms. Ciccone’s interview. State OIG noted that given her senior position, Ms. Ciccone’s refusal to submit to an interview was “unprecedented.”
According to the a DHS Directive, employees will —
— be subject to criminal prosecution and disciplinary action, up to and including removal, for knowingly and willfully furnishing false or misleading information to investigating officials;
— be subject to disciplinary action for refusing to provide documents or information or to answer questions posed by investigating officials or to provide a signed sworn statement if requested by the OIG, unless questioned as the subject of an investigation that can lead to criminal prosecution.
What should be most interesting to see is how DHS and Congress will deal with this case. It would send a signal to the rest of the bureaucracy how serious they are in their support of government oversight, and whether or not there are real consequences for failure to cooperate with Inspector General reviews.