@StateDept Skirts Thresholds in Arms Transfers to Saudi Arabia and UAE, Avoids Congressional Notifications

 

On August 10, a Senior State Department official held an on-background briefing on State/OIG’s  still unreleased report of the May 2019 Emergency Certification for Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Jordan.
The State Department also released a statement Inspector General Confirms No Wrongdoing in Emergency Arms Sales to Counter Iran, The Secretary’s “Emergency Certification Was Properly Executed” and “Complied with the Requirements” of Law.
The cover memo to Pol-Mil that accompanied the IG report dated August 10 says that “OIG will distribute a copy of this report to Congress and post a redacted version of this report on OIG’s public website within 2 business days.” Then the agency basically Bill Barred the IG report, putting a fine spin on the IG report, most likely expecting a couple of days of most favorable headlines.
State/OIG posted the report online on Tuesday, August 11. But nice try by Foggy Bottom’s spin-doctors. Now folks got to read the actual report though a redacted one. The IG report says that “In a memorandum dated July 27, 2020, the Department asserted that its requested redactions were necessary to protect executive branch confidentiality interests and, further, stated its position that the Secretary “has the authority to direct the OIG not to disclose privileged information, and the Department may do so without any final assertion of executive privilege.”
Well, not only redactions from the public report, but a more extensive redactions from the classified report that they also want to withhold from the Congress:

“On August 5, 2020, the Department provided its redactions to OIG’s report. Although the Department withheld relatively little information in the unclassified portion of the report,4 it withheld significant information in the classified annex necessary to understand OIG’s finding and recommendation.”
[…]
“Department asserted that the redactions made to the classified annex should be withheld from Congress because the underlying information implicates “executive branch confidentiality interests, including executive privilege.”

But see, if the State Department could assert any redaction for State/OIG’s work products, including in the classified annex to be withheld from Congress, what’s to keep Pompeo from asserting the same thing over IG investigations related to him, his wife, or any other senior officials?
It’s high time for the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) to go in and take a look at the State Department given the circumstances of the Linick firing, the abrupt resignations of the acting State OIG, as well as the dismissal of other IGs in multiple agencies. Starting with the State Department, CIGIE can then “address the integrity, economy, and effectiveness issues that transcend individual Government agencies.”
Summary of Review of Arms Transfers

“In response to congressional requests, OIG reviewed the Department of State’s (Department) role in arms transfers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates following the Secretary’s May 2019 certification that an emergency existed under Section 36 of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). 2 The Secretary’s emergency certification3 waived congressional review requirements for 22 arms transfer cases to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,4 with a total value of approximately $8.1 billion. Congress had previously placed holds5 on 15 of the 22 arms transfer cases included in the May 2019 emergency certification. At the time the Secretary certified the emergency, 6 of the 15 cases had been held by Congress for more than a year. The held cases included at least $3.8 billion in precision-guided munitions (PGMs) 6 and related transfers. In explaining the decision to place the holds, members of Congress cited concerns about the actions of the Saudi-led Coalition (Coalition)7 in Yemen since 2015, including high rates of civilian casualties caused by Coalition airstrikes employing U.S.- supplied PGMs.

For this review, OIG examined the process and timeline associated with the Secretary’s May 2019 use of emergency authorities contained in the AECA. OIG also evaluated the Department’s implementation of measures designed to reduce the risk of civilian harm caused by Saudi-led Coalition military operations in Yemen and analyzed Department processes for reviewing arms transfers that do not require notification to Congress. 8 The AECA affords the President or Secretary considerable discretion in determining what constitutes an emergency. Moreover, the AECA does not define the term “emergency.” Accordingly, OIG did not evaluate whether the Iranian malign threats cited in the Secretary’s May 2019 certification and associated memorandum of justification constituted an emergency, nor did OIG make any assessment of the policy decisions underlying the arms transfers and the associated emergency.

OIG determined that the Secretary’s emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA. However, OIG also found that the Department did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of PGMs included in the May 2019 emergency certification.9 In addition, OIG found the Department regularly approved arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below AECA thresholds that trigger notification to Congress. These approvals included items such as PGM components on which Congress had placed holds in cases where the transfers reached the thresholds requiring congressional notification. However, the AECA does not require the Department to notify Congress if it approves transactions below those thresholds specified in the law. OIG issued one recommendation to the Department in a classified annex10 that accompanies this report.”

Wait, the “emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA” but the OIG made no evaluation whether it was an emergency?  So, that’s something. Was this the same position taken by the former IG Steve Linick?
Per footnote:

Sections 36(b)(1), 36(c)(1), and 36(d)(1) of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. § 2776) specify the types of arms transfers that must be notified to Congress. For example, transfers to countries other than NATO members, Japan, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Israel, or New Zealand of major defense equipment in excess of $14 million and non-major defense equipment in excess of $50 million must be notified to Congress.

4,221 Below-Threshold Arms Transfers Estimated at $11.2 Billion

OIG reviewed Department records on approved arms transfer cases involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below the AECA thresholds that trigger notification to Congress.41 The records show the Department approved a total of 4,221 below-threshold arms transfers involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with an estimated total value of $11.2 billion since January 2017. Components of PGMs were among the below-threshold transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates approved during this period. Although the Department approved below-threshold transfers of PGM components as early as January 2017, the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security notified the Secretary in 2018 and 2019 that the Department intended to proceed with additional below-threshold approvals notwithstanding congressional holds on larger, above-threshold transfers of similar items.

So basically, the State Department did separate below threshold arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and UAE and avoided the required congressional notifications. Apparently, it will continue to do so despite congressional holds on similar items.
Looks like the State Department is daring Congress to do something about this. Here’s Pompeo also touting full “vindication.”

Also on August 11, Politico’s tireless reporter Nahal Toosi covering the State Department published a copy of the same OIG report, unredacted.
The unredacted document is posted here labeled in red “FOR INTERNAL U.S. GOVERNMENT/COMMITTEE USE ONLY – NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE MAY NOT BE FURTHER DISCLOSED WITHOUT CONSENT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE.  Wow! Now you can see which part of the public report, the State Department asserted the public should not see (it has to do with the timeline of the emergency declaration and the bureau involved. And oh, money, money, money).

Nominee For Peru Ambassadorship Lisa Kenna Gets a Late Thunderbolt

 

Via Politico:
Lisa Kenna, Pompeo’s executive secretary — a gatekeeper of sorts to his office — told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she was unaware of the substance of Giuliani’s outreach at the time, but now knows it was an effort to discredit Yovanovitch. Giuliani made calls and delivered documents to Pompeo that came from Ukrainian figures viewed as corrupt by the State Department.
“At the time, I did not know what the documents were about. It’s deeply disturbing,” said Kenna, who is being vetted by the committee for the ambassadorship to Peru.
Ms. Kenna’s prepared testimony for the SFRC is available to read here.

American Oversight Publishes Heavily Redacted State/OIG Hotline Complaint Regarding Pompeo Conduct

 

In May this year, American Oversight filed an FOIA request to the Department of State seeking “records sufficient to identify any whistleblower complaints containing allegations that concern the conduct of Secretary Mike Pompeo.” It also asked that the request be processed on an expedited basis. “The request was made in light of news on May 15 that President Donald Trump would be ousting State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, the independent watchdog tasked with overseeing the State Department headed by Secretary Mike Pompeo.”
On July 17, 2020, American Oversight published the State/OIG Hotline Complaint, a 4-page heavily redacted document of a whistleblower complaint.
The complaint was not/not submitted anonymously, but the sender marked “no” on the section for willingness to waive confidentiality.
The whistleblower said that they witnessed “concerning activities” in Washington, D.C. , other locations in the U.S. including New York and Florida, and overseas.
A heavily redacted Summary of Incident notes whistleblower “directly witness and/or heard numerous firsthand accounts” followed by two paragraphs of blackened entry.
Under “False or misleading statements” were two paragraphs that were ruthlessly Sharpied.
Under “Direction by” two paragraphs were also under cover of darkness.
The complaint states, “tried on several occasions to obtain clarifications and guidance from senior leadership in S/ES and from the Office of Legal Advisors, but were blocked from doing so.”
Redacted names “were made aware of these concerns on repeated occasions.” “To my knowledge, none of them ever took action to resolve the issues, and several of them specifically directed subordinate staff to continue facilitating questionable activities after the concerns were raised.”
At some point the names of these alleged enablers will be known to the public. Please be alert on what happens to this whistleblower whose identity is known to State/OIG.
S/ES is the Executive Secretariat of the State Department.  The Office of Legal Adviser is currently encumbered by an Acting Legal Adviser since the departure of the Legal Adviser in May 2019.

@StateDept’s Pompeo Muscle Desperately Throws Kitchen Sink at Ousted IG Steve Linick

Since the U.S. Senate majority doesn’t take anything seriously these days, State/OIG Steve Linick will officially be terminated on June 15, 30 days after Trump sent his congressional notification. And yet, on June 8th, the Undersecretary for Management Brian Bulatao fired two letters – one to Linick’s lawyers, and another to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency ( CIGIE) asking for an investigation into the conduct of the soon to be former inspector general. As a CNN reporter pointed out, the State Department could have requested the CIGIE investigation at any point before Pompeo asked Trump to fire Linick. It did not. The State Department is asking for it now, the week that Linick officially leaves his job.
Why?
It looks like the State Department is throwing the kitchen sink full of dirty dishes at IG Linick, hoping one of those dirty dishes would hit him on his way out. We’re just waiting for one of these champions of diplomacy to turn around and say from the podium, “see, that dirt on his shirt? That’s the reason no one should pay attention to whatever he was investigating before he was fired.”
Apparently, faulting Linick for not promoting Pompeo’s professional ethos statement did not quite do the trick. So the 7th floor folks, they’re hoping this one would work, ey? Has somebody there already created a PowerPoint presentation on “How to be an Agile  Champion of Diplomacy Watchdog and Just Cover Your Eyes?”
We’d like to see that, please.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate yawns and scratches its bum. During his tenure as State Department watchdog, Linick has probably alienated enough Democrats in Congress during the email mess, and alienated enough Republicans in Congress during the Ukraine mess. So, that’s that.
Unfortunately, in the constant breaking news cycle we are currently living, the world will move on in short order. Media folks will report on other outrages, big and small that occurs on a daily basis.  Our country’s march towards a full blown banana republic continue. Still. We won’t forget that Mr. Linick was fired for doing his job. We’d take his word over any character from this 7th Floor of the Foggiest Bottom.

The Bulatao- CIGIE letter is here: https://www.scribd.com/document/465038049/CIGIELetter-June82020

The Bulatao-Linick’s lawyer letter is here: https://www.scribd.com/document/465025243/Bulatao-Linick

So That’s Why @StateOIG Steve Linick Was Fired Urgently Under Cover of Darkness

 

State IG Steve Linick appeared before HFAC on June 3rd. You can read his prepared statement in the link below. There is also a summary of his congressional interview today. We understand that a transcript will be made available publicly at some point.
Politico reports:

“Linick also confirmed to lawmakers that he was investigating Pompeo and his wife for “allegations of misuse of government resources.” Linick revealed that he had sought documents from Pompeo’s executive secretary, Lisa Kenna, and discussed the probe with Bulatao and another senior State Department official, Stephen Biegun, to ensure that Pompeo’s inner circle “would not be surprised.” Pompeo later told The Washington Post that he was unaware of the investigation.”

The panel plans to seek interviews with the following current and former State Department officials. Dear HFAC, please have public hearings so we can see them earn points in their professional ethos scorecards.
Related:

 

More related posts:

 

@StateDept Officials Reportedly Wary of Acting IG Akard Who Also Reports to Pompeo BFF Bulatao

 

On May 30, CNN tweeted that “the ousted State Inspector General Steve Linick is expected to sit down for a transcribed interview on Wednesday, June 3rd,  with lawmakers who are probing his firing earlier this month, according to two congressional aides familiar with the inquiry and scheduling.”
Steve Linick’s removal was effective in “30 days.” But Linick has since been told apparently that “he is physically barred from returning to the State Department even to collect his belongings, complicating his ability to finish his work.”
Meanwhile, over in the Foggiest Bottom, the Acting State/IG Stephen Akard (who is reportedly keeping his other day job as @OFM_Ambassador) has assumed charged of the IG office the Monday following Linick’s Friday night firing.
Politico’s Nahal Toosi  is reporting about the reactions from State Department officials, and there are all sorts of worries:
    • “State Department officials are increasingly uneasy with their new acting inspector general, fearing he has conflicts of interest that could lead him to derail ongoing investigations — including ones into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — while endangering cooperating witnesses.”
    • “Some State Department staffers fear Akard will try to rescind, or otherwise undermine, past investigations conducted by his ousted predecessor, Steve Linick.”
    • “Others worry that the presence of Akard, who also has ties to Vice President Mike Pence, will scare off employees who wish to report waste, fraud and abuse.”
    • “Meanwhile, State Department employees who were interviewed for ongoing and past investigations – often under conditions of anonymity – are worried that Akard will track down their identities and share them with Pompeo and others. They fear they will be targeted for professional retribution as a result.”
    • “Another State Department staffer predicted that colleagues will shy away from reporting future cases of wrongdoing at the department because of Akard.”
Concerns from Capitol Hill:

“There also are concerns on Capitol Hill and beyond that Akard will seek ways to undermine Linick’s past, completed investigations that may have upset Pompeo and some of his top aides.”

Now, this part of Politico’s reporting should be a red flag. If true that this was Akards defense when asked about a potential conflict of interest, this is a bad sign:

“When asked about these potential conflicts of interest, Akard has offered a “head-scratching” take, a person familiar with the situation told POLITICO. Akard has said that, in reality, Bulatao is not his supervisor, but that his actual boss is Trump, because it’s the president who technically nominated him to serve as the head of OFM.”

OFM’s Stephen Akard reports to Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao. Period.

“As the head of the Office of Foreign Missions, Akard reports to Bulatao. As the undersecretary of State for management, Bulatao also oversees several other major divisions within the State Department, such as the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

If any of those other units falls under investigation by the inspector general’s office, some State Department officials argue, Akard can’t reasonably expect to play a role in the probe because he also reports to Bulatao. Bulatao is a longtime personal friend and former business partner of Pompeo’s.

His new staff have asked him what he will do if instructed by Pompeo or others not to investigate something. His response was that unless there was a very good reason, he would say that such an instruction was inappropriate. Akard also has acknowledged that he may have to recuse himself from certain matters.”

What does Pompeo want? A pet in his pocket?
    • But the fact that the chief U.S. diplomat has been so public about what he views as the proper role of an inspector general worries staffers who fear Akard will internalize the message.
    • In a Thursday interview with Fox News, Pompeo indirectly made it clear what he would like to see in an inspector general when he hinted that Linick was too independent.
    • “He was acting in a way that was deeply inconsistent with what the State Department was trying to do,” Pompeo said of Linick. “We tried to get him to be part of a team that was going to help protect his own officers from Covid-19; he refused to be an active participant. He was investigating policies he simply didn’t like. That’s not the role of an inspector general … This was about an IG who was attempting to undermine the mission of the United States Department of State. That’s unacceptable.”
Watch Pompeo’s actions not the blah, blah, blahs!
    • “One of the political appointees singled out for criticism by Linick was Kevin Moley, the head of the bureau. Even though some of Pompeo’s top aides acknowledged many of the problems described in Linick’s report, they claimed the secretary of State had no power to fire Moley because he was a presidential appointee. Instead, Moley was allowed to quietly retire several weeks later.
    • “(The State Department has never responded to questions from POLITICO about whether Pompeo had ever asked Trump to fire Moley. He did do so for Linick, who also was a presidential appointee.)”
The fact that Pompeo asked Trump to fire Linick but offered no actions following the IG reports on staff mistreatments says something about his organizational view of Foggy Bottom. There is an in-group and an out-group in Foggy Bottom’s universe, and only the in-group really matters.
You folks notice that Pompeo is really doing a nasty number on Linick? Not just recommending to Trump that Linick be fired, but throwing rocks and mud at Linick on his way out.  It really makes one wonder what kind of issues Linick was digging up as Foggy Bottom’s junkyard dog.
Linick was fired at a carefully selected time, then reportedly barred from returning to his office even if the firing did not become official for 30 more days. Pompeo quipped that he “should have done it some time ago,”  So why was it not done some time ago?
Why did it become so urgent, they had to fire him under cover of darkness on a Friday night on May 15th?
Then they apparently barred him from returning to his office, not even affording  a dedicated public servant the courtesy of allowing him to pack up his personal things, say goodbye to his colleagues, or have an orderly transition.
Then the Acting IG, double hatted as @OFM_Ambassadorshowed up at his new office the following business day to make everyone happy.
State OIG has a Deputy IG Diana R. Shaw.  Why was she not picked as Acting IG?  Questions, so many questions. If you got answers, we’re interested in listening.

 

Trump to fire State/OIG Steve Linick who is reportedly investigating Pompeo

 

So Friday night, just when folks were getting ready to mute the chaos and the crazies for the weekend, news broke around 8:30 pm EST of another IG firing. This time, it was the removal of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.  This follows the firing of both ICIG Michael Atkinson and DODIG Glenn Fine in April, and of the HHSIG Christi Grimm in early May.
WaPo reported on May 16 that “A Democratic congressional aide said Linick was looking into Pompeo’s “misuse of a political appointee at the Department to perform personal tasks for himself and Mrs. Pompeo.”
NYT also reported on May 16 that “A White House official, speaking on the condition on anonymity, confirmed on Saturday that Mr. Pompeo had recommended Mr. Linick’s removal and said that Mr. Trump had agreed.”
Wowowow! If true, hang a new poster from the ceiling!
On May 17, NBC News reported that “The State Department inspector general who was removed from his job Friday was looking into whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a staffer walk his dog, pick up his dry cleaning and make dinner reservations for Pompeo and his wife, among other personal errands, according to two congressional officials assigned to different committees.”
(Also see “UberEats With Guns”, Susan Pompeo, and Don’t Forget Sherman)
Neither Sherman nor the new dog, Mercer has been accused of wrong doing, but we might see the dogs as witnesses in Senator Grassley’s congressional hearing as a warning to other dogs who may be thinking of taking walks or going to groomers with folks on the clock.
Trump’s congressional notification of his intent to remove Linick is dated May 15 and is effective in 30 days.  The required 30-day notice was put in by Congress in 2008 so that “it could push back if the proposed removal was to cover up misconduct.”  Given that this would be the fourth IG removal without any consequential push back from Congress (writing a letter with no follow-up action doesn’t count as consequential), don’t be surprise if the federal government  won’t have any IG left by fall.
Say, is it possible that we’ll see State/OIG release the work product that instigated Linick’s removal prior to his departure?
SFRC’s Senator Bob Menendez and HFAC’s Rep. Ellion Engel have now announced a joint investigation into Linick’s dismissal.
State IG Steve Linick has been with the State Department since September 2013. Prior to joining State, he was the Inspector General of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Two months after moving to State. his old office, FHFA/OIG with the Justice Department and other state and federal entities secured a record $13 billion global settlement with JPMorgan for misleading investors about securities containing toxic mortgages. 
Linick officially started work at the State Department on September 30, 2013.  Folks with short memory may not remember this but on October 1, 2013, 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). He lost 65% of his entire staff during that  furlough. In his almost 7-year tenure as State OIG, he had been the subject of attacks by blue politicians, particularly during the email saga. He has also been accused by red partisans of being part of the “deep state” and being an “Obama holdover” during the Ukraine mess. It is within the realm of possibility that we could soon hear additional attacks to justify this dismissal.
State Department spox told NPR reported Michele Kelemen that “the State Department is happy to announce that Ambassador Stephen J. Akard will now lead the Office of the Inspector General.”
Happy, huh?
Akard, is a former Foreign Service officer who leads the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions.  He previously worked at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation under then-Gov. Mike Pence. He was originally nominated in 2017 to become director general of the Foreign Service. (see Trump’s Pick For @StateDept Personnel Chief Gets the Ultimate “Stretch” AssignmentTen Ex-Directors General Call on the SFRC to Oppose Stephen Akard’s Confirmation).
Tell us how this is going to end.

 

Related posts:

 

Pompeo Now Concerned About Improper Treatment of “Distinguished Professionals”

 

Secretary Pompeo who has not done much about the improper treatment of career professionals
— such as inappropriate practices including disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees, accusations against and harassment of career employees premised on claims that they were “disloyal” based on their perceived political views, and retaliation associated with conflicts of interest — despite the departure of some 50 employees from a bureau with 300 staffers —
is now concerned about “attempt to intimidate, bully, & treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State, including several career FSOs” from congressional committees exercising their oversight function.
Oopsie! We almost peed from laughing so hard!
Also, late breaking news says that State/OIG Steve Linick will be holding an “urgent” briefing Wednesday afternoon for staffers from several House and Senate Committees apparently “to discuss and provide staff with copies of documents related to the State Department and Ukraine.” The reported source of the documents is the Acting Legal Adviser.
The most recent Senate-confirmed Legal Adviser was Jennifer Gillian Newstead who served from January 22, 2018 to May 31, 2019 and is now the General Counsel at Facebook.
Marik A. String assumed office as Acting Legal Adviser on June 1, 2019. Mr. String state.gov’s bio says that he has 15 years of legal, policy, and military experience at the Department of State, Department of Defense, United States Senate, think tanks in the United States and overseas, and in private legal practice.” He also previously served as Senior Advisor to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. Prior to private law practice, Mr. String served on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where he held responsibilities as Deputy Chief Counsel and Senior Professional Staff Member. Mr. String, an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve was educated at Georgetown University (J.D., Global Law Scholar), where he was an editor for The Georgetown Law Journal and at the University of Vienna (M.A., Fulbright Scholar). See Just Security’s piece on this appointment from June 2019.

DHS/OIG Recommends Disciplinary Action For Ex-Deputy COS Christine Ciccone For Failure to Cooperate With State/OIG Review

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-ChiefRex 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.

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Whistleblower Protection Memo – How Useless Are You, Really?

Back in July, we blogged that State/OIG cited a State Department’s revocation of an employee’s security clearance in retaliation for whistleblowing in its Semi-Annual Report to Congress for October 2017-March 2018. State/OIG recommended that the whistleblower’s security clearance be reinstated (see State/OIG Finds @StateDept Revoked Security Clearance in Retaliation For Whistleblowing).  Retaliatory revocation is not an unheard of practice but we believed this is the first time it’s been reported publicly to the Congress.

Also in July, there was a joint OIG-State memo noting that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public when they disclose fraud, waste, and abuse. The Department is committed to protecting all personnel against reprisal for whistleblowing.  This summer OIG told us that Congress enacted a new provision in 2017 that requires an agency to suspend for at least 3 days a supervisor found to have engaged in a prohibited personnel practice, such as whistleblower retaliation, and to propose removal of a supervisor for the second prohibited personnel practice. (see @StateDept’s Retaliatory Security Clearance Revocation Now Punishable By [INSERT Three Guesses].

In September, we note the time lapse since the official report was made to the Congress and wondered what action the State Department took in this case.  If the State Department believes, as the memo states that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public” we really wanted to know what the State Department has done to the official/officials responsible for this retaliatory security clearance revocation.

We also want to see how solid is that commitment in protecting personnel against reprisal — not in words, but action.  So we’ve asked the State Department the following questions:

1) Has the security clearance been reinstated for the affected employee, and if so, when?

2) Has the senior official who engaged in this prohibited personnel practice been suspended per congressional mandate, and if so, when and for how long? and

3) Has the State Department proposed a removal of any supervisor/s for engaging in this prohibited personnel practice now or in the past?

As you can imagine, our friends over there are busy swaggering and to-date have not found the time to write back.

Folks, it’s been eight months since that annual report went to the U.S. Congress. If you’re not going to penalize the official or officials who revoked an employee’s security clearance out of retaliation, you were just wasting the letters of the alphabet and toner in that darn paper writing out a whistleblower protection memo.

And the Congress should be rightly pissed.

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