President Obama made sure there was no official watchdog supervising the State Department while Hillary Clinton was secretly sending her emails using a private server.
The president has a duty to appoint independent inspectors general at every federal agency, but Obama left the position vacant at the State Department throughout Clinton's entire four-year tenure.
The White House has deflected responsibility for more than a week for Clinton's use of private emails while she was secretary of state.
But Obama bears direct responsibility for a lax ethics environment that may have allowed Clinton to work without any real oversight, government accountability groups say.
"The White House is saying that the State Department has responsibility for making sure their officials and staff follow the law, but the White House is responsible for making sure they have the tools to do that and they fell down on that job in making sure they have the No. 1 tool, and that's an inspector general," John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan open-government group, told the Washington Examiner.
That the inspector general system was broken at State during Clinton's entire time there may have discouraged whistleblowers from stepping forward to denounce Clinton's for conducting business in a suspect manner.
Jamal Ware, a spokesman for the House Benghazi Committee, is now encouraging whistleblowers to come forward to speak to the committee and receive full protections.
"The Benghazi Committee is interested in hearing from any State employee who feels they may have nonpublic information relevant to the investigation or the current issue regarding email usage," Ware told the Examiner in a statement. "Employees wishing to reach out are able to do so via the committee's website at benghazi.house.gov or by calling the committee with confidence that their identity will be strictly protected."
The oversight vacuum at State during Clinton's tenure plays directly into the White House admission Monday that Obama and Clinton exchanged emails, and he knew that she was using a private account.
After saying that he learned about the private email controversy from the news, the White House said Monday that Obama and Clinton emailed during her time at State, and while Obama was aware of her use of a private email account, he didn't know the "details" of how she planned to disclose her emails to government archivists, as required by law.
"The president … did over the course of his first several years in office trade email with his secretary of state," White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday. "I would not describe the number of emails as large. But they did have the occasion to email one another."
Inspectors general are supposed to serve as the independent watchdogs within the federal agencies, the first line of defense against waste, corruption and officials' failure to abide by the law, while protecting whistleblowers who raise charges of wrongdoing and inefficiency.
During Obama's first four and a half years in office, the president did not name anyone to fill the top State Department inspector general slot. Instead, he acted nine months after the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, resulting in the death of four Americans and harsh scrutiny of the IG vacancy.
In the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, then-House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called the vacancy 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," Issa told Roll Call in a statement. "The State IG's visible absence of leadership in looking at what went wrong in Benghazi has certainly not gone unnoticed."
The Project on Government Oversight, a government accountability group, regularly tracks inspector general vacancies and was harshly critical of the long-standing vacancy at the State Department.
Michael Smallberg, a POGO investigator, said the lack of independent oversight at State naturally discouraged whistleblowers to come forward and lodge complaints because they are naturally afraid of reprisals.
"The president has a responsibility to find a qualified nominee in a timely fashion," Smallberg said. "When you are looking at a vacancy and there are questions about systemic waste, fraud and abuse, I think it's fair to ask why the president hadn't acted quickly to fulfill those obligations."
The White House did not respond to a question about whether the IG State Department vacancy during Clinton's tenure could have discouraged whistleblower complaints about her failure to use a government-issued email account, a potential violation of the Federal Records Act.
As the Examiner reported last year, whistleblowers who have turned to Congress or the media routinely say inspectors general have failed to investigate their charges of wrongdoing and then watched as their bosses retaliated against them for exposing agency secrets.
Some of the worst offenders are those inspectors general who are operating in deputy or interim positions. Only top full-fledged inspectors general have the added independence of a permanent presidential appointment requiring Senate confirmation.
During Clinton's time at State, a career officials with several conflicts of interest served in the top post for four years even though Obama never named him to the full-fledged position and he never received Senate confirmation.
Ultimately Steve Linick was confirmed as the State IG in September 2013. For the prior five and a half years before that, Harold Geisel, the acting IG who was a career State Department official with close ties to upper-management, ran the office.
A POGO investigation found that Geisel was close personal friends with Patrick Kennedy, under secretary of state for management, and that he worked with top officials at the agency to suppress negative information in what critics argued was a multi-layered cover-up.
In one instance, the ambassador to Belgium, a big campaign bundler for President Obama, was accused of soliciting sex in a park near the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, and other State Department employees were accused of other unrelated sexual misdeeds.
Efforts to investigate the accusations were blocked by top agency managers, including Kennedy and Cheryl Mills, Clinton's chief of staff, according to whistleblower allegations. Then later, a lower-level IG investigator's report on the top brass' tactics was whitewashed, scrubbed of any damaging information before it became public, the POGO probe found.
"In a case like this there was at least the appearance of a cozy relationship with upper management, so you wonder if there were people who didn't approach the IG with information because the IG wouldn't aggressively protect them," Smallberg said.
Wonderlich agrees and says the four-and-a-half-year IG vacancy at State poses the question of why Obama failed to nominate someone for so long.
"We have to understand why the agency lapse was so long and whether it was intentional," he said.