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."

The Cable

Samantha Power leaving White House

Samantha Power, a close personal aide to President Barack Obama and the top White House staffer on preventing genocide and mass atrocities, will leave government - temporarily - at the end of this month.

Since 2009, Power has served as the National Security Staff's senior director for multilateral affairs and has been a key figure in forming and implementing Obama's policies related to human rights. Her husband, former White House regulations czar Cass Sunstein, left the administration late last year to take a teaching position at Harvard Law School and Power will take some time off from government service to join him and their two young children in Boston.

"After four years at the White House, Samantha will be leaving the NSC later this month and will spend some well-deserved time with Cass and her two small children, Declan (3) and Rian (eight months). While she is likely to return to the administration, no decisions have been made on her next steps," NSS Spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable. "Samantha has been a powerful voice in this administration and a long-time friend and adviser to the President. We will miss her at the NSC, and we look forward to continuing the President's work promoting human rights and dignity."

Power has long been rumored as a possible replacement for Susan Rice if and when Rice leaves her post as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Around the State Department, several sources told The Cable that Power could return to government to replace Maria Otero as the Undersecretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Otero's last day at the State Depatment was today.

Power, a former journalist who covered the wars in former Yugoslavia, won the Pulitzer Prize for her book A Problem from Hell, an examination of the U.S. response to genocide. She was a top advisor Obama's first presidential campaign for president until March, 2008, when she resigned after calling Hillary Clinton "a monster" in a press interview.

She played a key role in the Obama administration's decision to intervene militarily in Libya in 2011, but she leaves office at a time when the White House faces severe criticism for perceived inaction in Syria, where over 60,000 civilians have been killed after two years of civil war.

For outside experts, Power's tenure was successful in that she pushed hard for the institutionalization of human rights advocacy and atrocity prevention in the U.S. government despite dealing with a White House leadership whose record on such issues is decidedly mixed.

"There is a small group of people that really care about genocide prevention and prevention of mass atrocities and we all appreciate that we had a real champion for those issue at the highest levels of government," said Mike Abramowitz, director of the Committee on Conscience, which conducts the genocide prevention efforts at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. "She worked very hard to strengthen the interagency treatment of these issues and she had a great deal of passion for those issues and she brought that passion to the government."

Getty Images