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Leaked E-mails Show the State Department’s Top Watchdog May Lack Independence
WASHINGTON - November 18 - The independence of the de facto State Department Inspector General (IG), Ambassador Harold Geisel, is in question due to information obtained by POGO, including several troubling State Department e-mails. For instance, POGO has learned that Geisel has recused himself from a State Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation involving Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy and a company called Aurora, LLC. Geisel’s recusal is due to a perceived conflict of interest between him and Kennedy. Kennedy is in charge of State’s day-to-day operations. These operations generally tend to be the focus of the OIG. In a letter released today, which references the information, POGO urged President Barack Obama to promptly nominate a permanent State Department IG.
“As the State Department’s mission is growing in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, the need for an independent and effective watchdog is even more important,” said POGO investigator Jake Wiens. “How can Geisel do his job rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse if he has even an appearance of a conflict of interest with the State Department’s head manager?”
State’s OIG has not had a permanent IG since January 2008, almost three years.
Geisel will be testifying today on State OIG’s oversight role in Afghanistan before the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight.
POGO’s request is also significant in light of an October 12, 2010, external peer review of the section of State OIG responsible for “oversight and assistance for high-cost, high-risk Department programs located in crisis and post conflict areas and countries,” which is called the Middle East Regional Office (MERO). The review identified numerous troubling deficiencies in MERO’s performance. One of the deficiencies was MERO’s regular issuance of audit report conclusions not fully supported by evidence. That finding caused MERO to reclassify all audits completed from its creation in January 2008 until September 30, 2009, as assessment reports, which means that not a single audit was completed by MERO during that timeframe.
Given recent concerns about the performance of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction and the coming sunset of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, it is paramount that the State OIG have a strong presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan. This is especially true in Iraq where State will soon have unprecedented responsibility following the coming withdrawal of the U.S. military. To meet this challenge, State plans to utilize between 6,000 and 7,000 security contractors, more than double its current numbers. The Commission on Wartime Contracting has noted that, “With such a large increase in contract employees, existing weaknesses in contract management and oversight, not to mention funding and hiring challenges, can only grow more troublesome.”