The long-festering problem of senior-level vacancies at the State Department is about to get worse. On Wednesday, Texas Senator Ted Cruz vowed to place a hold on all State Department nominations until Secretary of State John Kerry appoints an inspector general. The move could delay the confirmations of a string of high profile nominations including Samantha Power, appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Victoria Nuland, appointed to assistant secretary of state to European and Eurasian Affairs, and Danny Russel, appointed assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
In a statement, Cruz called President Obama's failure to nominate an Inspector General at the State Department "unacceptable."
"The position has been vacant for almost 2,000 days. This is a crucial oversight position and should be a priority for an agency facing substantial management challenges," said the Republican lawmaker. "Until the President acts, I have notified Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that I will place a hold on all State Department nominations."
The appointment of a permanent IG, tasked with finding and preventing government waste and corruption, has earned support from Democrats and Republicans, but Cruz is alone in vowing to hold up all nominations at State in order to force the appointment.
As evidence of a need for a permanent IG, Cruz ticked off a range of controversies facing the department, including the deadly attacks on U.S. officials in Benghazi last year, mismanagement of security contractors at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, and squandered taxpayer money designated for police training in Iraq.
Interestingly, Cruz did not highlight one of the most high-profile scandals facing the department -- one in which he himself has become a player. Allegations from former IG investigator Aurelia Fedenisn that senior State Department officials discouraged or called off internal investigations into misconduct such as soliciting sexual favors from minors and prostitutes, drug use and sexual assault.
Of all the lawmakers Fedenisn could've sought out to leak
materials to, she chose Cruz, a freshman senator who hails from the same state
as her Dallas-based lawyers, Damian Mathias and Cary Schulman. Fedenisn says
she hired the lawyers after the State Department sent law enforcement officers
to her house in an alleged effort to intimidate her into silence.
Earlier this month, a State Department official, speaking on background to the Washington Times, charged that if Fedenisn leaked her complaints to the press before Cruz, it discredits her claims of being a whistleblower. "What you have to look at is the timing," the official told the newspaper. "In order for her to officially become a whistleblower, she has to give the documents to a congressional authority first."
In fact, Fedenisn attorney Cary Schulman told The Cable that she did go to the press before Cruz, but disputed that the sequence events has any legal bearing on her status as a whistleblower.
In any case, though Cruz is the only lawmaker vowing to hold up every State Department nomination, he's not the only one upset about the lack of an IG.
This morning, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the ranking member and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urged the president to appoint an Inspector General. "We are witnessing the longest vacancy in the history of the Office of the Inspector General, which is tasked with preventing and detecting waste, fraud and abuse within both the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors," Royce said. "The time to nominate a qualified IG is long overdue." Weeks earlier, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, similarly urged the president to appoint an IG, saying they were "deeply concerned."
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment. Update: At a press briefing, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Secretary Kerry and President Obama have "identified an excellent candidate" for IG and "look forward to making it public," but did not clarify when that might happen. Ventrell declined to directly criticize Cruz, but noted "we don't want holds placed on people."