Rice pledges improved oversight of security contractors

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that she regretted that the State Department did not exercise better oversight of contractors in Iraq and acknowledged pervasive corruption in the Iraqi government, but she failed to satisfy Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee seeking more specific answers.

The much anticipated face-off between Rice and Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., over issues raised by the committee coincided with a State Department campaign to show that it is addressing concerns that it failed to control the conduct of private security contractors like Blackwater USA in Iraq.

In the wake of a report by a team of State officials that faulted the department for not bringing security contractors under control, Richard Griffin, head of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which oversees Blackwater and other security firms, resigned Wednesday. Rice announced Tuesday that she would quickly implement the team's recommendations.

At Thursday's hearing, Rice told the committee that, along with plans to improve coordination with the Department of Defense on contractor oversight, the changes will fix problems highlighted by the Blackwater controversy.

"I certainly regret that we did not have the kind of oversight that I would have insisted upon," Rice said. "We now will have that oversight."

Rice did not specifically answer questions from Waxman about whether Iraqi corruption is undermining U.S. reconstruction efforts. Democrats cited reports on an announcement by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that investigations of top Iraqi officials suspected of corruption could not be held without his approval. And they displayed an e-mail that they say shows al-Maliki personally blocked a corruption investigation of Iraq's transportation minister, who is his cousin.

Rice declined to say if she heard about such concerns through State Department channels. Discussing such issues would be premature until investigations are done and could also endanger State Department sources, she said.

That position represented an apparent shift from a previous department position that publicly discussing corruption in the al-Maliki government could harm U.S.-Iraqi relations. Rice disagreed with members who accused her of stonewalling and who said she appears to be willing to make for public consumption only positive statements about al-Maliki.

Rice said the United States would oppose any rule exempting any Iraqi officials from investigation or prosecution for corruption.

"There is a very bad problem with corruption in Iraq," she said. "It is a problem in the ministries. It is a problem in the government . . . I don't know how to say that more clearly."

Republicans defended the secretary, calling the committee's investigations into the State Department a backdoor effort to debate the war.

"We should have no illusions about the subtext of these hearings," said House Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Tom Davis, R-Va. "Unable to reverse course, the Democratic strategy seems to be to drill enough small holes in the bottom of the boat to sink the entire Iraqi enterprise."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.