Monday morning, CBS News initially misreported that it “has unearthed documents from the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), an internal watchdog agency, that implicate the State Department in a series of misconducts worldwide.” (Emphasis added.)
According to an internal State Department Inspector General’s memo, several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off. The memo obtained by CBS News cited eight specific examples. Among them: allegations that a State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” on foreign nationals hired as embassy guards and the charge that members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail ‘engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries’ — a problem the report says was “endemic.”
The bigger endemic “watchdog” problem for the Department of State, as I wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on June 5, is that its Office of Inspector General has been without a Senate-confirmed IG for more than five years. Likewise, for years President Obama has been derelict in his duty to fill vacant inspector-general posts at the departments of Labor, Interior, Defense, Homeland Security, and at the Agency for International Development
The Office of Inspector General is a congressionally mandated “independent and objective unit” within the Department of State, the head of which is supposed to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and by law may not be “a career member of the Foreign Service.” According to a letter sent to President Obama by the nonprofit Project for Government Oversight in November 2010, the absence of a Senate-confirmed IG at State was a major problem; the letter noted in particular the longtime personal friendship between the temporary deputy IG (a retired ambassador who served at that time — and still serves today — as the de facto State IG) and State’s undersecretary for management, Patrick Kennedy, who at the time was “responsible for the people, resources facilities, technology, consular affairs, and security of the Department of State.” Kennedy, in other words, was a close personal friend of the man responsible for inspecting and reviewing State’s (and Kennedy’s) performance.
It should be no surprise, therefore, that the deputy IG’s recent final report about DS investigations did not include the detailed memo that had reportedly cited eight examples of DS investigations that senior officials had impeded or summarily dropped.
It should also be no surprise that a “former State Department internal investigator,” who we now know is a former Office of Inspector General investigator, has blown the whistle by explaining publicly that “we also uncovered several allegations of criminal wrongdoing in cases, some of which never became cases.” According to CBS News, “Often times, other [Diplomatic Security] agents were simply told to back off of investigations of high-ranking State Department members.” Not to besmirch the professional reputation of any one investigator within the State Department Office of Inspector General — or within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security — but this type of external manipulation of investigations is to be expected when an agency has no “independent and objective” Senate-confirmed Inspector General.
The scandal is not so much that DS investigators at State were ordered to drop investigations of high-ranking State personnel. The real scandal is that President Obama for his entire presidency has been derelict in his constitutional duty to nominate an inspector general for the Department of State, as required by the Inspector General Act of 1978.
In this regard, I agree with Joseph Curl’s recent column in the Washington Times, “Why Obama scandals aren’t scandals at all.” Curl makes a good case that many of the recent administration scandals may be nothing more than smoke and mirrors, obscuring the real agenda of the White House, which appears to be avoiding accountability and transparency while “breaking the back of the Republican party.” Curl concludes by drawing our attention back to the lingering Benghazi scandal: “Four Americans are dead: We still don’t know why. And that’s a real scandal.”
It is the community of statutorily required professional “watchdogs” who should be in the business of shedding light on the question, “Why are four Americans dead?” It is the job of a Senate-confirmed IG to shed light on senior government officials such as Ambassador Susan Rice, who repeatedly propagated false information to the American people (and the world) after the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, blaming a Web-posted video as the motivation for that attack.
It is also the job of a Senate-confirmed IG to investigate senior officials such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s former chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, who according to Tuesday’s New York Post was implicated in “one instance of interference” out of “eight cases that were derailed by senior officials.” These details never made the final report.
But an IG can only answer questions about possible misconduct or criminality if that IG is first nominated by the president and then confirmed by the Senate. That this has not happened under Obama’s watch is, I believe, speaking from experience as the former inspector general of the Department of Defense, the real “fire” threatening this administration, and our government. Smoke from the other smoldering scandals is only so much distraction.
By systemically crippling IG independence, President Obama has limited the transparency in critical government agencies. And unlike the other scandals besetting his administration, the IG-vacancy scandal is beyond any doubt the president’s personal responsibility. As much as he dodges and weaves to avoid accountability, when it comes to these IG-vacancies, there is no excuse: The buck stops at the top.
—Joseph E. Schmitz served as inspector general of the Defense Department from 2002 to 2005. His latest book, The Inspector General Handbook: Fraud, Waste, Abuse, and Other Constitutional “Enemies, Foreign and Domestic’” was published last month by the Center for Security Policy, where he serves as a senior fellow.