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Watchdog Calls on Congress to Address “Risks Undermining Confidence” at State Department

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The State Department’s chief internal watchdog on Tuesday bemoaned an exemption to a federal law that prevents his office from digging into allegations of wrongdoing by senior agency officials.

Testifying before a Senate Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing, department Inspector General Steve Linick said that his office “is not always afforded the opportunity to investigate allegations of criminal or serious administrative misconduct by Department employees.”

He said that while other agencies—including the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security—are required to refer cases of likely misbehavior by senior employees to their respective IGs, the carve-out for State “creates a perception of unfairness.”

Linick quoted a 2007 Government Accountability Office report that blasted the process as “management investigating itself.”

“This risks undermining confidence in the integrity of the Department,” he said, adding that current procedures are “a barrier to achieving accountable and transparent government operations.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) lent a sympathetic ear to Linick’s concern.

“Your request of us would be in a reauthorization that we try to structure the reporting language to the IG somewhat similar to the way that the [Department of Defense] would have it?” the Senator asked.

“Exactly,” Linick answered.

Also requested by Linick at the hearing was more funding to address IG network vulnerabilities.

Linick testified that his office shares the same network with the department at large, giving thousands of administrators access to the IG’s IT infrastructure. He said the current set up “increases risk” to IG operations.

“A large number of Department administrators have the ability to read, modify, or delete any information on OIG’s network including sensitive investigative information and email traffic, without OIG’s knowledge,” Linick noted.

He said that he has no evidence that State Department administrators have “compromised” the IG’s work, but that if they had, he “likely would not know.”

In order to “transition to an independently managed information system,” Linick said his office would need cooperation from the department and support from Congress.

Lawmakers will have an opportunity to make good on the inspector general’s recommendations. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) promised in January a review of all foreign affairs programs and practices with the aim of crafting a new State Department reauthorization bill this year for the first time in 13 years.

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Sam Sacks worked on the Hill as a Congressional staffer, and as a writer and reporter since 2008. He’s been published in Hustler Magazine, which you may have seen but don’t want to admit.

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