The Cable

Senators call on State Department to cooperate with SIGIR

The war in Iraq may be ending, but the fight over who gets to oversee the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars still being spent there is just heating up.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) -- led by Stuart Bowen -- has been embroiled in a fight with the State Department, which has blocked SIGIR inspectors from assessing State's multi-billion dollar Iraqi police training program.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reported last week that SIGIR managed to complete the report, which stated that the State Department "does not have a current assessment of Iraqi police forces' capabilities ... such an assessment is essential for effective program targeting."

"The SIGIR audit berated [the State Department] in its first sentence for failing to cooperate in the investigation, which ‘resulted in limited access to key officials and documents,'" POGO noted. "The IG was still able to complete the investigation however, through ‘limited discussions' and ‘documents obtained from other sources.'"

On Tuesday, five U.S. senators wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to urge her department to cooperate with SIGIR and provide SIGIR with requested information and documents.

"The State Department is explicitly directed to provide whatever information or assistance is needed by SIGIR, so long as SIGIR's request is ‘practicable and not in contravention of any existing law.'  In addition, State Department officials are prohibited from ‘prevent[ing] or prohibit[ing] the Inspector General from initiating, carrying out, or completing any audit' related to funds involved in Iraq reconstruction," the senators wrote. "Despite these requirements, the State Department has failed to provide SIGIR with adequate assistance and access to information and documents."

The letter's signatories were Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

"SIGIR is perfectly free ... to audit the reconstruction activities in Iraq. They are not free to audit the base element of the State Department. That is within the jurisdiction of three other entities," Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy told the Wartime Contracting Commission in a hearing last month.

The senators wrote that SIGIR "has jurisdiction to audit all Iraq reconstruction funds, including those spent on contracts which may also support other State Department activities."

"It is absurd for Under Secretary Kennedy, or whoever it is, to suggest that the State Department is suffering from too much oversight in Iraq," a senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable today. "He should take some time and read the Commission on Wartime Contracting report."

https://mail.google.com/mail/images/cleardot.gif

Full text of the senators' letter after the jump:



SENATORS URGE SECRETARY CLINTON TO PROTECT SIGIR'S INDEPENDENCE


The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20520

October 31, 2011

Dear Madam Secretary:

We are writing to urge you to ensure that officials of the
Department of State comply with lawful requests by the Special Inspector
General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) for information and documents. 

SIGIR has broad access to information that may assist it to
perform its duties.  According to the law that established the office,
SIGIR is required to "conduct, supervise, and coordinate audits and
investigations of the treatment, handling, and expenditure of amounts
appropriated or otherwise made available to the Iraq Relief and
Reconstruction Fund, and of the programs, operations, and contracts
carried out utilizing such funds."     

The State Department is explicitly directed to provide
whatever information or assistance is needed by SIGIR, so long as
SIGIR's request is "practicable and not in contravention of any existing
law."  In addition, State Department officials are prohibited from
"prevent[ing] or prohibit[ing] the Inspector General from initiating,
carrying out, or completing any audit" related to funds involved in Iraq
reconstruction.  

Despite these requirements, the State Department has failed
to provide SIGIR with adequate assistance and access to information and
documents.  On August 3, 2011, SIGIR notified Congress and the State
Department that the Department's lack of cooperation with its requests
was impairing SIGIR's ability to perform audits of the Department's use
of private security contractors and the Police Development Program.  

The State Department has justified these denials on two
grounds:  that the information requested is outside of SIGIR's
jurisdiction and that the requests overlap with work done by other
government auditors.  In testimony before the Committee on September 21,
2011, Patrick Kennedy, the State Department's Under Secretary for
Management, asserted that SIGIR's requests for information about
contracts used by the State Department to protect State Department
personnel were outside the scope of SIGIR's jurisdiction, which is
limited to Iraq reconstruction funds.  Mr. Kennedy also stated that the
subject matter of SIGIR's requests had already been widely addressed by
other government auditors, including the State Department's Office of
Inspector General.  

These assertions are deeply troubling.  First, SIGIR has
jurisdiction to audit all Iraq reconstruction funds, including those
spent on contracts which may also support other State Department
activities.  The State Department has an affirmative obligation to
comply with all lawful and practicable requests made by SIGIR in support
of their work.  Under the law, the Department must provide whatever
information SIGIR legitimately requests, not merely whatever information
the Department deems appropriate.           

Second, even if the Department concludes that SIGIR has not
coordinated its audits with other Inspectors General, the law does not
provide the Department authority to impede such audits.  In the present
matter, however, SIGIR has already coordinated the audits of the PDP and
private security contractors with the Inspector General of the
Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

We believe that this unwarranted obstruction of SIGIR will
weaken an important oversight tool for the taxpayers and obstruct your
own efforts at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the
Department.  Therefore, we request that you direct your officers to
comply with all lawful current and future requests from SIGIR for
documents and information it may require.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Senator Joseph Lieberman

Senator Susan Collins

Senator Claire McCaskill

Senator Tom Coburn

Senator Lindsey Graham

The Cable

Michael Douglas and Ellen Tauscher team up for nuclear zero

Actor Michael Douglas has been in Washington all week to advocate for nuclear non-proliferation and funding for diplomacy in today's budget-cutting environment. He and Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher sat down on Thursday at the State Department for an interview with The Cable.

"I'm here to see if anything can be accomplished in the area of nuclear disarmament before the elections," Douglas said in our interview. "You get a message constantly that nothing is going to be done between now and [the election]... but I don't think we can wait around for a year and half."

Calling himself a "messenger of peace" in the area of disarmament, Douglas said he was "try[ing] to see if Congress won't calm down a little bit" in its efforts to cut funding for nuclear non-proliferation programs.

Douglas met for 30 minutes Thursday with Tauscher, Deputy Secretary Tom Nides, Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller, and Assistant Secretary Tom Countryman.

"Obama is not the first president to talk about going to nuclear zero, but he is the first one to put a blueprint forward and to have acted on it," Tauscher told The Cable, noting that the New START agreement was ratified in a politically fraught environment. "That victory is momentous, but it's not the end of the agenda."

Tauscher said the drive to work toward a world without nuclear weapons will continue from now until the election, but warned that the prospects of seeing a Senate ratification of key agenda items, such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), is "very unlikely." She noted, however, that "there is a lot of work to do" in the meantime to explain why CTBT is needed and why it is more verifiable in 2011 due to the advances in policy and technology compared to when it last came up for Senate ratification in 1999.

Douglas has been making the rounds in Washington since his arrival in town last week. We spotted him at the reception to celebrate the Diplomatic Reception Rooms on Oct. 18 and then met him again at a Nov. 1 meeting on Capitol Hill of the board of directors of the Ploughshares Fund, an organization that supports the arms control agenda.

Douglas also sat down on Thursday morning with some members of the State Department press corps to make the case for defending spending on diplomacy and development.

"These soundbites about why are we spending money overseas when we have such economic times in this country, people don't take the time to understand just how important diplomacy is," Douglas said. "It takes a lot of time, it's quiet, but it certainly is a lot less expensive than going to war."

Ben Chang / State Department