By Patricia H. Kushlis
The November 18, 2010 Government Executive carried a story by Robert Brodsky entitled “Watchdog calls for removal of State Department’s interim IG.” The report is based on a call by POGO (Project on Government Oversight), a well respected government oversight group, for Harry Geisel, the State Department’s Interim Inspector General to resign and for the Department to appoint a truly independent IG – vetted by the White House and Congress - to take his place. This is no small stuff. Moreover, State is now the single agency in the Executive branch with neither an independent IG nor someone waiting confirmation on the Hill.
With the Republicans soon to be the majority party in the House of Representatives, Hillary and the rest of the State Department will need to take seriously charges leveled by organizations like POGO and deal with those problems preferably before, what seems likely, the inevitable grillings begin on the Hill.
POGO is accusing Geisel - with internal e-mail evidence to back up its charges - of lacking impartiality in IG investigations - precisely the position an IG, or his or her office, should not be in and a major reason why career Foreign Service Officers, retired or otherwise, are prohibited from occupying the position of permanent IG. The relationship is all too cozy and vulnerable to undue insider influence.
POGO's letter to President Obama
Here’s what Danielle Brian, POGO’s Executive Director wrote in a letter to President Obama that was also distributed, not just to the State Department where it would all too likely be buried or conveniently lost, but to selected members of the Senate and House as well as the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan:
“This e-mail is profoundly troubling because Geisel appears to be informing management that he is on their side and that his office needs to conduct just enough oversight to placate Congress and prevent a legitimately aggressive and independent IG from taking his place.”
Just to make sure POGO’s report got read, the organization also sent it to Government Executive.com whose reporter then wrote the story - complete with links to relevant documents – and published it on the Internet.
For FYs 2001 through 2006, State’s budgets increased from $13.7 billion to about $24 billion, an increase of almost 75 percent (55 percent in constant dollars adjusted for inflation) to manage its expanding role in the “global war on terror.” State’s budget and personnel requests have substantially risen in the four years since then as its tasks and responsibilities have continued to increase.
Yet, according to the GAO in its October 31, 2007 report, the budget for the OIG only rose from $29 to $31 million (adjusted for inflation a decrease of 6%) In 2006, OIG staff of the 318 authorized only 182 actual or about 57% of the authorized level and about 20% less than in 2001.
WhirledView Long Been Questioning the OIG’s Impartiality - Diplopundit
Diplopundit is right when he stated that I have long been blogging about Human Resources issues at State and questioned the impartiality of the OIG well before the POGO report became public. Ironically, I had just updated my October post on that very topic when the Geisel story broke in Government Executive. Diplopundit is also correct when he links the two.
Questionable oversight by the OIG of both the Bureau of Human Resources (HR) and the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) have led to serious -- possibly even criminal -- abuses in personnel matters and have also apparently allowed additional problems to flourish in the functions handled by OBO.
Specifics of POGO’s charges are two: one relates to Iraq reconstruction inspection and auditing issues that are connected directly to the conduct of the Deputy Inspector General and his relationship with Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy and the other refers to a contract for embassy Djibouti construction let by the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) for which the Under Secretary appears to have attempted to interfere on behalf of Aurora, LLC. (Despite this, Aurora did not get the contract.)
I’ve heard rumblings about various OBO problems for the past couple of years. If accurate, the charges reflect poorly on State’s ability to carry out a core function that totaled $4 billion, or 14 percent, of State’s budget in 2007. OBO exists to build and maintain US Embassies and Consulates abroad many of which had fallen on hard times for lack of funds well before I left the Foreign Service in 1998.
In 2001, OBO was tasked with supervising the construction of 150 new security enhanced embassies by 2018 at a cost of $17.8 billion. 54 of them had been completed by 2008. Yet also in 2008, Congress’s GAO found serious problems with the OBO Bureau itself pointing out that it was “overly complex with entities operating in semi-isolation resulting in the lack of effective coordination, communication and accountability.” Furthermore, according to the GAO, OBO’s “contracting process (was) cumbersome and complicated and must be streamlined.”
I’ve not heard of changes made in the interim.
POGO and the Government Executive are doing their jobs.
Why these stories have yet to appear in either The Washington Post or The Washington Times surprises me. I’ve been told, however, that the story did make the scrappier Politico. AFSA, the Foreign Service’s own professional and labor organization, should ensure that its several thousand members are made aware of the report – but I’m a member and have heard nothing from AFSA yet.
When she first arrived, Hillary’s instincts were right to make Jack Lew Deputy Secretary for Management and to assign him to tackle the crippling funding and personnel shortfalls that beset State. Lew zoned in on those issues and made substantial headway with Congress but apparently never looked hard at how the department was handling the fiscal and human resources already at its disposal.
Lew seems to have left that to Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, a longtime Foreign Service Officer who had been brought back by Ambassador John Negroponte, Deputy Secretary under Condoleezza Rice, to clean up messes in State’s management. Kennedy was confirmed in November 2007, just a few months after the 2007 passport issuance delay fiasco centered in the Bureau of Consular Affairs under then Assistant Secretary Maura Harty as well as major embarrassments in Iraq relating to State’s mismanagement of embassy building contracts not to mention the Blackwater diplomatic security guard shoot-up of 17 Iraqi civilians in central Baghdad September of that same year.
It was also during that time frame that Harold (Harry) Geisel was put in the Interim IG position – which has, over time, turned into that of Deputy IG.
Meanwhile over at OBO, Kennedy replaced Colin Powell appointee and retired Army Corps of Engineers Major General Charles Williams then in charge of the troubled office with a retired State management officer named Richard Shinnick. Shinnick – a Kennedy loyalist and long time friend – headed OBO from January 2008 until April 2009 when he left the position for somewhere elsewhere in the department. The Aurora LLC-related US Embassy Djbouti contracting problem identified in the April 2008 e-mail that POGO released happened during Shinnick’s tenure as OBO head.
Hillary – An Independent IG Needs to be a Top Priority
Hillary Clinton has been on the job as Secretary of State now for nearly two years.
Although much good has come out of her leadership in foreign policy terms nothing has changed on the IG front to make State a more honest and forthright place to work. Earlier in the summer, the White House announced it intended to appoint Lew to head the OMB – a step up for him but a loss for State. The Senate confirmed his OMB appointment on November 19. In September the White House named Thomas Nides to become State’s new Deputy Secretary for Management in Lew’s place.
State clearly needs to improve its performance substantially if it is to perform the difficult tasks ahead. This needs to begin with management. For starters, the department requires an independent, qualified, competent, and impartial Inspector General without political ties or other baggage and whose reports and recommendations are respected and acted upon. Hillary needs to make this a top priority for herself and not wait for the Senate to get around to confirming Tom Nides, her new Deputy Secretary for Management.