By William Fisher
A group of current and retired State Department officials is charging that the Department’s chief watchdog is more interested in protecting the Bush Administration from political embarrassment than in rooting out waste, fraud and abuse.
The official under fire, State Department Inspector General Howard J. Krongard, is under investigation by Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat and Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. According to Waxman, government officials have accused Krongard of repeatedly blocking investigations into contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan, including construction of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and censoring reports that might prove politically embarrassing to the Bush administration.
Waxman’s 13-page letter to Krongard said the allegations were based on the testimony of seven current and former officials on Krongard's staff, including two former senior officials who allowed their names to be used, and private e-mail exchanges obtained by the committee. The letter said the allegations concerned all three major divisions of Krongard's office -- investigations, audits and inspections.
Waxman’s Committee will hold hearings on the charges on October 16.
But this will not be the first time Krongard’s performance has been placed under scrutiny.
A watchdog group known as Concerned Foreign Service Officers (CFSO) claims that Krongard’s office issued a “whitewash” in a 2006 investigation into whether State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) was unfairly revoking and denying security clearances. Krongard's office found no wrongdoing, but the CFSO claimed Krongard's office “made no attempt to conduct a serious inspection.”
CFSO asked Krongard’s office to look into allegations that Foreign Service Officers’ security clearances were being suspended – and often later revoked -- without effective due process on the basis of unsubstantiated and frivolous allegations from undisclosed sources. Without their security clearances, senior Foreign Service Officers essentially lose their careers, are barred from serving in overseas posts, and are assigned to pushing papers at State’s headquarters in Washington.
CFSO has been waging a campaign to reign in the power of the DS and create a more equitable process for State employees to contest their suspensions, including the right to confront their accusers and to see evidence against them. Many of those whose State clearances have been suspended continue to hold high-level clearances with other agencies including the Defense Department.
Krongard’s 2006 report concluded that DS “equitably administers the process
for the revocation of security clearances.”
It determined that “investigators and adjudicators’ actions appeared free of bias or prejudice and were based upon specified investigative and adjudicative guidelines and upon Executive Orders and Department of State standards, as published in the Foreign Affairs Manual.”
Krongard’s office, however, found that:
• DS does not have a process to follow up on those cases containing a conditional
reinstatement of the security clearance. In six of the 31 closed cases that reinstated an employee’s clearance based on the employee meeting certain conditions, DS only followed up on one case to ensure that all conditions of the reinstatement had been met.
• Employees can appeal the proposed revocation of their security clearance to a three-member appeals panel that includes the Under Secretary for Management, the Assistant Secretary for Administration, and the official who is both Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources. However, the appeals panel does not have a specified time frame in which to meet. This may further delay the process. After DS transmitted employees’ appeals, the appeals panel took from three to 13 months to render the Department’s final decision.
Its recommendations included:
· DS should implement a process to follow up on cases in which the letter of security clearance reinstatement imposes conditions, documenting with a memorandum in the case file whether the employee met the stated conditions.
· DS should follow up on the six closed cases that have conditional reinstatements to determine whether the employees met the conditions.
· The Under Secretary for Management, in coordination with the Bureaus of Administration and Human Resources, should convene an appeals panel and render a decision within a reasonable time, such as 45 calendar days after receiving from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security a notification of an employee’s appeal of a decision to revoke a security clearance.
In a set of “informal recommendations” Krongrard’s report found that Department employees were not aware that their cases will be further delayed each time they submit new information to DS or if they commit another offense during the adverse action process. Krongard’s report recommended that DS should state in the employee’s memorandum for revocation that any additional information provided or additional offenses committed during the course of the adverse action process will further delay the employee’s case.
Krongard also found that adverse action case files were poorly organized, and suggested that DS make better use of information technology to enable uploading and downloading from certain web-based applications.
The CFSO dismissed most of Krongard’s findings as irrelevant to the core issues.
For example, CFSO said that investigating agents “selectively recorded derogatory information and failed to record positive or potentially mitigating information. We said that the basic source information was further selectively presented and distorted in Report of Investigation (ROIs), and that these flawed ROIs then formed the basis of flawed adjudications.”
Krongard’s 2006 review was prompted in part because a congressional office had provided The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) with a constituent’s allegation that DS does not promptly, efficiently, and fairly investigate and adjudicate security clearance suspensions, resulting in a waste of government resources and placing Department employees’ careers and reputations at risk.
Additionally, the CFSO charged that security clearances are suspended for reasons other than risk to national security; security clearances are suspended arbitrarily and decisions are influenced by bias, prejudice, and ignorance; there is improper and unnecessary referral of clearance-suspension cases to other agencies; investigations are lengthy; and the process lacked adjudicative standards.
In the current confrontation, Rep. Waxman wrote to Krongard, “One consistent element in these allegations is that you believe your foremost mission is to support the Bush administration.''
The California congressman wrote that Krongard's subordinates said he showed “contempt'' for career employees, and some staff members fear going to work.” He added that “Several top officials have resigned since Krongard took the helm and haven't been replaced.”
According to Waxman, Krongard refused to look into problems with a Kuwaiti company hired to lead construction of the US Embassy in Baghdad. The Justice Department in January asked for help looking into allegations of misconduct by the company, but Krongard told his staff to stand down, Waxman's letter said.
In a later e-mail, assistant Inspector General John DeDona complained to Krongard's deputy, William Todd, that Krongard's top staff wanted to “keep working the BS cases'' in Washington and “not rock the boat with other more significant investigations.''
DeDona, who recently resigned his job as assistant inspector general for investigations, is cooperating with Waxman's inquiry, according to the letter. Ralph McNamara, former deputy assistant inspector general for investigations, also is working with Waxman's staff.
Waxman also wrote that Krongard tipped off a controversial Bush appointee about a whistleblower investigation into the official's alleged misconduct. In 2005, congressional lawmakers sent a letter asking Krongard to look into complaints that Kenneth Tomlinson, then head of the governing board of Voice of America, sought to collect pay from the board while he did work for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which he also ran.
Waxman said Krongard had the congressional letter faxed directly to Tomlinson's office, jeopardizing the investigation. Tomlinson is a “close associate" of recently resigned White House political operative Karl Rove.
“These actions caused an important source to become wary of cooperation with the investigation because of fear of retaliation,'' Waxman wrote.
Krongard has called Waxman’s allegations “replete with inaccuracies.'' He said he has tried to assist other agencies without overlapping with other investigations.
President George W. Bush appointed Krongard as Inspector General of the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors in May 2005. A graduate of Harvard law school, he has a long history of associations with establishment organizations and law firms.
Inspectors General are appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate. The IG’s mission is to independently investigate and make corrective recommendations regarding waste, fraud and improper conduct within their respective departments and agencies. IGs serve in all major government department departments, and most smaller agencies, as well as in the military.
While the IG Act of 1978 requires that IGs be selected based upon their qualifications and not political affiliation, IGs are considered political appointees and are often selected in part because of their political relationships and party affiliation.