President Obama plans to name a watchdog for the State Department after a bipartisan push to fill the post that has been vacant for 2,000 days.
The five-year absence of a permanent internal watchdog at the State Department has prompted Republicans, led by several Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, to question the agency’s internal oversight capabilities in the wake of the terrorist attack last September on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi.
On Wednesday Cruz threatened to hold up all of Obama’s nominees to the State Department until the president names an inspector general, a position that has been vacant during all of Obama’s time in the White House.
Cruz also said the Interior and Labor Departments also need internal watchdogs, but “only the State Department has been without a credible and independent inspector general for so long.”
After the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday passed a bipartisan resolution urging the president to nominate a permanent inspector general for the State Department, administration officials indicated that Obama plans to tap Steve Linick, who currently serves as inspector general of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Ed Royce, a California Republican who chairs the Foreign Affairs panel, applauded the move, although he said it was long overdue. Leaving that position open, he said, was particularly egregious while the inspector general’s office is reviewing an independent investigation into the administration’s handling of the attacks in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Amid new revelations about the State and Defense Department’s handling of the aftermath of the attacks in May, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General announced that it was investigating an independent review of the Benghazi attacks, known as the Accountability Review Board.
Chaired by former Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, with Admiral Michael Mullen the vice chairman, the ARB’s report on Benghazi criticized State Department officials in Washington for ignoring requests for more guards and safety upgrades, and for failing to adapt security procedures in a rapidly deteriorating security environment.
It also unequivocally said the attack was premeditated and carried out by terrorists, not the result of a spontaneous uprising sprung from protests.
The report did not specifically blame senior members of the administration, such as then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for mishandling security leading up to the attack or for the fallout afterward. Pickering and Mullen were faulted for failing to interview Clinton during their investigation.
“Having pressed both the president and [State Department] Secretary Kerry on this issue, I’m glad the president has finally decided to nominate someone to fill the vacant position,” Royce said in a release.
Royce said he was puzzled, however, as to why the president thought it was acceptable to have no top cop on the beat at the State Department for nearly 2,000 days, especially as the Office of Inspector General is reviewing whether there political appointees unduly influenced internal and outside investigations of “administrative and criminal misconduct.”
With Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs panel, Royce has previously pushed Obama to nominate a permanent inspector general at State. He and Engel wrote several letters to Obama and Kerry urging them to nominate a qualified IG, an issue Royce and Engel described as “essential to the proper functioning” of the State Department.
Earlier this month, Sen. Bob Corker and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., wrote the president urging him to nominate permanent inspectors general at the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to identify “ineffective programs, process weaknesses, and wasteful spending that undermine public confidence in government.”