The Cable

Congress calls on Kerry to appoint a State Department inspector general

The State Department and USAID haven't had an inspector general for over five years, and a growing chorus of lawmakers in both parties want new Secretary of State John Kerry to do something about it.

"As you begin your tenure, we would like to raise an issue essential to the proper functioning of the Department of State. For more than five years, since January 16, 2008, the Department has lacked a presidentially-nominated, Senate-confirmed Inspector General." House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY) wrote in a letter today to Kerry. "That gap of more than 1,840 days is the longest vacancy of any of the 73 Inspector General positions across the federal government. While this would be problematic under any circumstances, the repeated criticisms of the independence and effectiveness of that office by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) heighten the need for an appointment."

In 2011, the GAO issued a report criticizing the lack of a permanent inspector general at the State Department and the widespread use of foreign service officers to do inspections at embassies and consulates. The GAO's criticisms date back to 2007.

"The appointment of management and Foreign Service officials to head the State OIG in an acting capacity for extended periods of time is not consistent with professional standards for independence," the GAO reported. "In addition, GAO reported that the use of Foreign Service officers at the ambassador level to lead OIG inspections resulted in, at a minimum, the appearance of independence impairment."

The House Foreign Affairs Committee leaders argued in their letter that a full-time, permanent inspector general is needed to assure Congress and the taxpayers that the State Department is doing all it can to minimize waste, fraud, and abuse. They drove home that point in a separate letter sent today to President Barack Obama, urging him to appoint someone to lead the inspector general offices at both State and USAID.

"Both of these inspector general offices monitor key elements of the U.S. government's national security budget, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and these leadership vacancies raise questions as to whether billions of dollars of programs are being properly overseen," Royce and Engel wrote. 

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is not the only committee pressing the administration on this issue. On Jan. 24, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Subcommittee on National Security Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and ranking Democrat John Tierney (D-MA) wrote to Obama asking him to fill the State Department IG void.

"During your entire first term as President, you did not nominate anyone to serve in this critical position. This failure evidences a clear disregard for the Inspector General Act and the will of Congress," they wrote.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has also been on the case, starting a letter writing campaign to ask ordinary Americans to petition their government to appoint a State Department IG.

"Did you know that President Obama went his entire first term without nominating an inspector general for the vacant job at the State Department? In fact, the State Department has gone more than five years without a permanent inspector general. The State Department opening is the longest running vacancy among agencies without inspectors general," the POGO plea for citizen activism reads. "Please take action and urge President Obama to nominate a strong and independent permanent State Department Inspector General today."

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