Analysis: State Needs a Watchdog — Now, Not Later

AP

The U.S. Department of State has not had a permanent, Senate-confirmed inspector general since 2008. This is the longest vacancy of any of the 73 inspector general positions in government, and the effects of this are all but impossible to ignore. Whether it's the boondoggle that is the Jeddah New Consulate Compound, or the tragic attacks in Benghazi, the "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies" (as an independent panel called it) of the State Department are in need of repair. That's not going to happen until an IG candidate is found, vetted, and installed.

To understand the importance of the position, it's useful to look at what the job entails. A good inspector general is an agency's fail-safe. A bureaucracy will always operate in its own self-interest. Budgets, portfolios of responsibility, head-counts, and independence from oversight are prime motivators for any organization. Accordingly, the leadership of the little kingdoms within a bureaucracy will always work to protect and perpetuate themselves.

An inspector general, on the other hand, exists in parallel. He or she is an outlet for reports of fraud, waste, and abuse, and can investigate and audit offices and operations. Because he or she isn't part of the bureaucratic hierarchy, an inspector general can oversee an agency with impunity, give voice to those with grievances, and shine a light on questionable activities.

The Government Accountability Office has long been critical of the seemingly permanent vacancy of an IG at the State Department. In 2011, the GAO focused on one especially problematic habit at State: "Specifically, the appointment of management and Foreign Service officials to head the State [Office of the Inspector General] in an acting capacity for extended periods of time is not consistent with professional standards for independence. In addition, GAO reported that the use of Foreign Service officers at the ambassador level to lead OIG inspections resulted in, at a minimum, the appearance of independence impairment."

All of this is what makes the case of Joan Wadelton so interesting. She is a former Foreign Service officer who has blown the whistle on promotion irregularities at the Department of State. She is accusing the Bureau of Human Resources of the Foreign Service of criminal wrongdoing. Specifically, she claims that Foreign Service Selection Board results are being doctored for internal political reasons, with certain favored insiders receiving higher placement on promotion lists. Concomitant with less-qualified persons receiving preference in promotion are capable Foreign Service officers being passed over. The latter group -- collateral damage in this situation -- then faces a more severe problem. In Foreign Service, once you reach a certain position of authority, you must either be promoted or forced into retirement. In this case, State employees are being unfairly passed over, and then fired for not being promoted in time. The inevitable upshot is the aforementioned "management deficiency."

Read the rest of this article at TheAtlantic.com. 

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.

    View
  • 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.

    View
  • 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.

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

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    View
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    View
  • 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.

    View
  • 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.

    View

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