By Patricia H Kushlis
You have to hand it to Senator Grassley for challenging the State Department’s claim that Hillary Clinton’s trip planner and scheduler, Huma Abedin had expertise that was “irreplaceable” and that as a consequence, she was worthy of a contract as a special State Department employee while also employed as a consultant with Teneo a consulting firm close to the Clintons that has Coca Cola as one client, the Clinton Foundation and for Mrs. Clinton personally. This, reportedly, so that she could live in New York with her wayward husband, Anthony Weiner, and new born son.
I’m not sure which of the two - husband or baby - takes more adult supervision but I have my suspicions. The August 19, 2013 New York Times article which reported the story did not indicate the kind of contract State issued Abedin but the Washington Post described her re-employment as a SGE (Special Government Employee).
This is different from longer term Schedule B and C political appointments whose occupants are employed at the behest of a senior political figure and who are supposedly required to resign and leave the agency once their political patron does. A SGEr is a “temporary” employee who can only work for the federal government 130 days out of 365 and is supposed to have some kind of special skill that is so important to the operation of the US government that he or she can simultaneously draw a salary from a private entity – or entities - as well as the USG.
Exactly what special qualifications did Huma Abedin offer the State Department aside from her knowledge of Hillary’s likes and dislikes? And how could her SGE contract have lasted from June 3, 2012 - February 1, 2013 without breaking the law?
Meanwhile, according to a study conducted by the American
Foreign Service Association earlier this summer, the number of political appointees in the State
Department has proliferated over the past decade. I think AFSA was only counting Schedule B and C appointments not SGEs but this category should be added to the mix if it's not already there.
Seems to me that the use of SGEs should also be investigated by Congress especially in light of its belt-tightening sequester policy – but since both political parties use political positions to reward wealthy and not so wealthy supporters – that’s not likely to happen any time soon.
But back to the 37 year old Huma. Puh-leese. An irreplaceable scheduler?
A Deputy Secretary who made $135,000 annually in 2012 from the USG (according to Wikipedia) on top of a private consulting income of $355,000 which she and her husband reported on their income taxes? There seems to be another question about substantial travel funds but I don't know if this sum was supposedly spent all in one year or over the course of her State Department employment. Hillary, after all, did travel a lot and she took Huma with her.
Who’s kidding whom?
Excuse me - but aren’t personal schedulers usually mid-grade civil servants or shouldn't they be? Or perhaps if a civil servant couldn’t be found to take on the thankless task perhaps a junior officer from the Operations Center might have filled the bill. Better than stamping visas in a consular section's visa mill or weeks of endless grueling 24/7 shift work sifting through cables on the Watch.
I’m sorry I don’t buy the argument used to justify Abedin’s questionable appointment: namely that she knew the ins and outs of the White House. Come on. She worked for the Clinton White House during the 1990s not the Obama White House of the 21st century. No same, same. This claim is just irrelevant – or should have been seen that way.
Furthermore, Hillary Clinton should have known better than to support this special questionably ethical request particularly since she gives all appearances of gearing up for a presidential race in 2016 and should be concerned above all about being seen as squeaky clean. Abedin's SGE appointment is not.
The issue for me is not that Huma’s husband has embarrassing sexual habits and she has chosen to “stand by her man” or that she is Muslim from a well-educated family from the Subcontinent, it’s that she was allowed to do something US federal government employees are not permitted to do. Senior officials – even including political appointees – cannot work for the private sector at the same time as for the government. Why should this special category exist at all except to circumvent government ethics that are applied to everyone else? Or if there are legitimate reasons for using it - such as for people who serve on short term advisory panels - then the law needs tightening.
As an FSO-1, I remember having to recuse myself from a grant panel deliberation because a contending organization was employing my college age son as an intern that particular summer. I also had to complete financial disclosure forms to show that I had no conflict of interest with respect to our contracting process. Never mind working for or even accepting lunch from an outside NGO with which my office had a business relationship.
There’s only so far that rules can be bent - or in this case broken - to serve an individual employee’s special
financial desires or circumstances. It’s
known as avoidance of conflict of interest. Federal employees are not permitted
to jump from jobs in the bureaucracy to firms that contract with the
bureaucracy immediately let alone hold such positions simultaneously – to avoid
the very appearance of favoritism and corruption.
This is why the request for information as to how many other State Department employees simultaneously work contract jobs in the private sector is relevant. State should stop stonewalling The New York Times and cough up the answer.
If both State legal and administrative bureaus agreed to honor Huma’s multi-employment request as the Times article indicates, one has to wonder who else and how many other elses are being so favored. Since it’s all too clear that State’s Bureau of Human Resources is riddled with problems just with respect to its handling of the career Foreign Service, it stands to reason that its dealings with political employees is likely even more suspect - given the added pressures a powerful political appointee patron can place on the career bureaucracy.
State: get it together, quit stonewalling and respond to these not unreasonable requests.