State Department’s Inspector General Situation Attracts Scrutiny
As questions swirl about the security measures in place at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, critics are questioning why the State Department does not have a Senate-confirmed inspector general.
For more than four and a half years, the State Department has had no appointed inspector general, the longest such vacancy of any federal agency. And during his entire term, President Barack Obama has not nominated anyone to fill the slot.
Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said an aggressive inspector general might have raised security concerns before the facility in Benghazi was overrun, resulting in the death of four Americans.
“That is exactly the kind of work a good IG would be doing, making sure that Diplomatic Security is doing its job well,” Brian said.
The vacant slot prompted criticism from House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who called it a “major concern.”
“When employees in any bureaucracy don’t believe they will be held accountable by rigorous oversight, outdated and counterproductive thinking often overtakes common sense. The State IG’s visible absence of leadership in looking at what went wrong in Benghazi has certainly not gone unnoticed,” Issa told Roll Call in a statement.
In the place of an appointed and Senate-confirmed head, Harold Geisel has been serving as the deputy inspector general since 2008.
POGO and others have criticized Geisel for not aggressively overseeing the State Department.
On the “About OIG” section of the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General website, Geisel begins his explanation of what the office does by writing, “We don’t play ‘gotcha’.”
“It’s really odd to be bragging about” not engaging in zealous oversight, Brian said.
Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Obama is working “diligently” to find nominees for vacant IG posts.
“The administration is firmly committed to strong Inspectors General, and we are working diligently to identify the best candidates to fill these unique posts. The administration supports the efforts of all of the IG Offices, including those currently being led by Acting IGs, as they work to ensure that taxpayers get the good government they deserve,” he said.
“Since June 2008, OIG has produced, or is currently working on 25 security-related audits and over 135 embassy inspections with a security component,” according to a statement from the Office of the Inspector General.
In April 2011, the Washington Post reported that current State Department leadership has pushed Obama not to appoint an inspector general.
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this week, Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said that “multiple” U.S. officials told Congressional investigators that the Sept. 11 attack on the Benghazi facility was the culmination of months of smaller attacks, including a June incident when a bomb blew a hole in the consulate’s exterior fence.
Diplomatic officials had repeatedly asked for greater security, the two lawmakers asserted.
The State Department has convened a board to review the Benghazi attack, headed by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering, who served as the ambassador to the United Nations from 1989 to 1992, among many other diplomatic assignments.
Brian said former inspectors general at State have often previously served as diplomats, experience that is not optimal for the position.
“In some ways, a diplomat has the opposite personality of who you want as an inspector general,” she said.