Can an inspector general be truly independent while department officials have access to his computer network?
State Department Inspector General Steve A. Linick's testimony before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee Tuesday morning might leave lawmakers asking that question. Linick said that along with needing better communication about potential criminal activity and misconduct by State Department personnel and others, he said getting an independent computer network would be a priority.
"We really need to be independent from the department," Linick said. "We have a lot of sensitive information on our network,"
"They're not open, but if an administrator wanted to — and, again, we don't have evidence of this — if an administrator wanted to, he or she could come on to our system," Linick said. "They come on to our system as it is with security patching and all, for legitimate reasons."
Like many departments and agencies, the State Department has faced cyberattacks, something Linick acknowledged Tuesday.
"There is evidence it has been attacked, and it has affected us," Linick said in response to a Perdue query. "I can't really go into details because of the nature of the information."
Linick previously served as inspector general at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, where he said his system and email address were "completely off the department's grid."
Linick said it would take additional resources to do something similar at the State Department.
"I need money and I need the department's cooperation. I would like to be completely separate from the department to ensure the integrity of our system, but I also need the department to give us access to the same systems that we have now," said Linick, adding that he has brought up the issue with both Secretary of State Kerry and Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom.
The oversight hearing was the first with the gavel for Perdue, a freshman Republican.
"The Office of the Inspector General was designed to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse, and has laudably found ways to save taxpayers millions of dollars. However, they do not have autonomy or independence to conduct adequate oversight," Perdue said. "Given the important mission of the State Department, it's outrageous that Mr. Linick and his team are not given full authority to hold a department of 72,000 employees accountable."
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