By Patricia H. Kushlis
Also see Peter Van Buren "An Example of Petty Corruption and Cronyism at State", January 23, 2013. Van Buren worked on Congressional Relations for State's Bureau of Consular Affairs at the time of the passport fiasco.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Maura Harty, State Department darling – and Congressional bête noir – somehow received a Presidential rank (the US government’s most prestigious civilian) award. This happened in 2010. But for what? Staying home after being fired for causing such a mess with the normally routine issuance of passports to American citizens for the first six months of 2007 that members of Congress finally summoned her to the Hill to testify - to her and the Department’s chagrin?
We remember it all too well since WhirledView became the “go-to” website for advice on how to circumnavigate the interminably long delays caused by incompetent bureaucratic decisions because, well the mainstream media and most everyone else had largely been ignoring this very human story. Perhaps as importantly we made it possible for applicants to share experiences and for those successful in navigating the Passport Agency’s rocky shoals to offer practical advice.
Presidential awards are rare and special.
These awards are normally reserved for a very few US government officials successfully employed and in responsible positions who had performed their duties in exemplary fashion for the previous three years. This, we pointed out in 2010, Harty had not been or done because she had been let go – not just moved to another position in the Department - in early 2008 for incompetence in the passport affair. She submitted her resignation on November 21, 2007 effective February 29, 2008.
How is it that no one in authority in the Department noticed Harty’s Presidential award nomination and questioned its propriety - before it was announced? Shouldn’t this have come from Nancy Powell then Director General of the Foreign Service?
Or what about – let’s fast forward to the present – Harty’s far more recent reemployment by the Department – this time in the Office of the Inspector General? Didn’t Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the current Director General think more than once about rehiring someone who had been let go for cause just a few years earlier? Guess not.
While Harty herself is now back at State in the Office of the Inspector General, we understand that her husband (different last name) is employed in State’s Consular Affairs Bureau front office. Guess they can carpool together. Wonderful.
There’s one thing about bringing someone back on contract or into the Foreign Service who performed well, left of his or her own volition or was forced out because of the Foreign Service’s antediluvian up-or-out promotion system despite the individual’s sustained superior performance. But face it Harty does not meet those criteria. And employing her non-State Department husband in the front office of the bureau she formerly headed (before she became a public embarrassment) simply smacks of a weird form of questionable cronyism.
But why the Office of the Inspector General (OIG)? How can the Department hire someone for a position in the Inspector’s Office with this track-record? Should she really be allowed to make judgment calls as to how others perform their jobs?
Furthermore is she overseeing the work of her old bureau – the place where she screwed up so badly in 2007 and where her spouse now works? I hope these are questions the General Accountability Office is investigating in its current study of the Department’s human resources function.
As I’ve written here numerous times before, there are serious issues with the State Department’s handling of its most precious resource – its personnel. Accountability, or lack thereof, is a major chunk of the problem. Yet Maura Harty’s latest State Department reincarnation is just the iceberg’s tip of the administrative problems besetting a department sinking into a fog of irrelevancy.
Here’s the gist: without competent and trustworthy staff, mistakes are made. The tragedy of Benghazi is the latest example – as I noted this is the second time it has happened on the same officials’ watch - of such grandiose failures of a State Department administrative operation tasked with protecting American government personnel and the facilities in which they are assigned to work abroad. Failures of the Benghazi magnitude turn into failures of policy. They reverberate badly for an administration up and down its ranks.
Chicken and egg
When a human resources system is broken, people without the requisite expertise and judgment occupy positions of authority. When cronyism and worse permeate a system bad things happen. When a security system doesn’t work, people die. When a personnel system fails, incompetent employees make the decisions that result in things like a failed security system.
An uncorrupt and independent Office of the Inspector General established to keep the US federal government on the straight and narrow is crucial to keeping the system functioning. It’s the grease that makes the wheels turn easily and what we as taxpayers should expect. But State hasn’t had such a person in years. This may not be as sexy as making and overseeing foreign policy but without the implementers and the requisite oversight the policy doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of success. John Kerry take note.
Previous WV posts by Patricia H. Kushlis on this topic:
Benghazi and State: Where do the Bucks Stop? January 11, 2013.
The 2007 Passport Fiasco, Maura Harty and State's 2009 Presidential Rank Awards, September 1, 2010.
GAO Taking a Look at State Department HR Bureau, November 14, 2012.
The Troubled State of State - A System Run Amok, June 12, 2012. (Also see additioanl links at bottom of page to previous posts).