Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan step off a plane at Old Doha International Airport on Nov. 21, in Doha, Qatar.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan step off a plane at Old Doha International Airport on Nov. 21, in Doha, Qatar. Patrick Semansky/AP

Acting State Dept. IG Leaves the Day After Report on Travel of Pompeo’s Wife Is Published

The IG office cited the Vacancies Act to explain the latest in a series of departures.

The acting State Department inspector general will leave his post on Friday, a move the office claims was planned and was necessary due to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. This comes a day after the IG published a report on the secretary of State’s wife for which the department attacked the watchdog. 

Acting IG Matthew Klimow’s departure is the latest in a series of shake-ups in the State inspector general’s office this year. In mid-May, President Trump informed Congress via a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that he would fire State Department IG Steve Linick, at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo said Linick was a “bad actor” who was not working to further the mission of the department, but it was also revealed that Linick’s office was looking into Pompeo and his wife’s potential misuse of taxpayer funds. Amb. Stephen Akard became acting IG, but then resigned in early August and his deputy Diana Shaw took over. 

In September, Klimow, the U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan, “quietly” became acting IG and “it was not clear why the Trump administration felt the need to bring in Klimow” with the election so close, Politico reported. Now Klimow is out and Shaw will once again fill the position. 

The State Department said in September that Klimow would be in the position until the end of the year, but he told his colleagues he’s departing “a little bit earlier than I anticipated,” while noting “it was determined” he must leave to comply with the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, The Washington Post reported on Thursday. The act says that individuals may serve in an acting capacity for only 210-days if there is no pending nomination. “The time limitation is tied to the vacancy itself, rather than to any person serving in the office, and the period generally begins on the date that the vacancy occurs,” The Congressional Research Service noted

“Since Ambassador Klimow joined [the Office of Inspector General] last summer, we have always anticipated that his tenure as acting inspector general would end in December 2020,” State IG Spokesman Ryan Holden told Government Executive on Friday. This is “consistent with the Vacancies Act and his desire to return to post to provide critical leadership to Embassy Ashgabat.”

Linick’s firing was effective on June 17, but the 210-day mark started whenever he stopped performing the IG duties (which could have been in late May), according to Anne Joseph O’Connell, a law professor at Stanford University who specializes in administrative law and the federal bureaucracy.

“Once the [vacancies act] time limits expire, jobs can often be done through delegation,” O’Connell noted. “But IG delegation orders typically assign the nonexclusive duties to the first assistant, which would be the principal deputy IG.” 

The department would not comment on the removal.

Klimow’s last day comes after his office published a report on Thursday about Pompeo's wife’s official travel for eight trips between April 2018 and April 2020. There is a footnote in the report saying that both Akard and Klimow (who were both ambassadors before becoming acting IGs) recused themselves from the investigation and gave Shaw final clearance authority. 

“Although the department had documentation that purportedly demonstrated justification for all eight trips taken by the spouse of the secretary, the department could provide appropriate documentation of approval by an authorized official for only two of them,” the report said. “[The Office of Inspector General] did not assess whether the cited purpose constituted an appropriate justification for representational travel.” The IG gave two recommendations on how to improve authorization of travel for family members, with which the department agreed. 

Meanwhile, in a press release on Thursday, the State Department claimed complete vindication and said the IG “wasted both time and taxpayer resources on this report,” targeting specifically Jeff McDermott, assistant IG for evaluations and special projects. 

There are some questions about the conditions under which Klimow is leaving. 

“Given this administration's abuse of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, I find it hard to believe this move is related to complying with the law,” Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the nonprofit Project On Government Oversight, told Government Executive on Friday. “I think it's much more likely that we are continuing to see the impact of the lack of consequences imposed on the administration for unwarranted removals earlier this year and the damage it has done to these internal watchdog offices.”

In a tweet on Friday, David Lapan, vice president of communications for the Bipartisan Policy Center, also cast doubt on the reason for the departure since “the Trump administration has failed to adhere to [Vacancies Act] time limits several times (and continues to do so).” 

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the advocacy nonprofit Public Citizen, also told Government Executive the Trump administration is “just really not interested in playing by the letter of the law,” so he doesn't expect them to enforce the vacancies act unless there is a “political opportunity in doing so.” 

Under the vacancies act, IGs, along with several other positions, are granted some exemptions, but The Congressional Research Service noted “it is not entirely clear what the consequences are if an acting officer in one of these exempt positions violates the Vacancies Act” since the section “does not apply to those positions.” 

The IG’s office denied the change was due to the report and when asked for follow-up comment reiterated that “from the beginning, it has been Ambassador Klimow’s and the department’s expectation that he would depart in December.”