Government accountability groups want to know if Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry — rumored to be President Barack Obama’s choice to head the State Department in his second term — will push to fill the four-year vacancy in the office responsible for oversight within the department.
The office of the Inspector General of the Department of State — an oversight agency that investigates, among other things, security measures for U.S. diplomats — has operated without an official director for the entirety of Obama’s first term, due to the president’s refusal to appoint anyone to the position.
Hillary Clinton’s State Department wanted the position left vacant, despite criticisms from private watchdog groups and the Government Accountability Office, according to the Washington Post.
Leaving OIG without an official director is a mistake that Kerry should immediately push the president to rectify, should he become secretary of state, said Joe Newmann, a spokesperson for the Project on Government Oversight.
“We’d expect that filling the vacant inspector general position would be a top priority in the new year,” he wrote in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Obviously, it hasn’t been a priority thus far during the Obama administration.”
Under the unofficial leadership of Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel, OIG has been criticized for conducting inadequate investigations and audits. And the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, only raised more questions about the competency of the agency responsible for evaluating the State Department’s security measures.
Failing to appoint anyone to lead the office sends a message that oversight is not a priority for the president and the State Department, POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian told TheDC News Foundation earlier this month.
“There is a total lack of leadership, a lack of confidence on the part of that office to take on the difficult tasks, because they don’t have the political cover of someone who’s been confirmed by the Senate to take this important job on,” she said.
If Kerry is chosen to lead the State Department, he should immediately ask the president to put an independent-minded individual in charge of OIG, according to Newmann.
“We’d be happy to sit down [with Kerry] and talk to him about the critical need for a permanent inspector general,” wrote Newmann.
If Kerry gets the job, it will be due in part to his relative popularity among Republican congressional leadership.
UN Ambassador Susan Rice was widely seen as the president’s first choice to take Clinton’s place at State, but she withdrew her name for consideration after Republicans criticized her for misstatements about the nature of the Benghazi attack.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain has publicly expressed his support for Kerry’s presumed nomination.
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