Watchdog calls for removal of State Department's interim IG

Group argues Harold Geisel is too close to agency management.

A government watchdog group is calling on President Obama to remove the State Department's interim inspector general, saying he has an inappropriately close relationship with agency management.

The Project on Government Oversight released a letter to the White House on Thursday in which it identified concerns about the impartiality of Ambassador Harold W. Geisel, who has served in an interim status as State's IG for two and a half years. Geisel's official title is deputy inspector general because of federal limitations on how long an official can hold the title as acting inspector general.

POGO also released an August 2008 e-mail exchange it obtained between Geisel and Patrick F. Kennedy, State's undersecretary for management. In the communication, Geisel told Kennedy he was getting pressure from Congress to improve oversight of operations in Iraq. At one point Geisel noted, "If we aren't going to be a strong IG, Congress will give us another."

Geisel later said, "I am trying to keep a lid on unreasonable expectations and behavior and to keep the numbers down in Iraq. However, the department committed to have an active State OIG as a quid pro quo for legislation, giving us back the lead in Iraq. Please tell Baghdad to stop shooting its friends."

State is transitioning to take over as the lead agency in Iraq as the Defense Department minimizes its military presence in the region.

"This e-mail is profoundly troubling because Geisel appears to be informing management that he is on their side and that his office needs to conduct just enough oversight to placate Congress and prevent a legitimately aggressive and independent IG from taking his place," Danielle Brian, executive director of POGO wrote in the letter.

In a statement to Government Executive, IG spokesman Thomas Burgess defended Geisel's e-mail to Kennedy. "As he explained to congressional staff on July 29, 2010, the 'unreasonable expectations' referred to in the Aug. 22, 2008, e-mail was the attempt by Embassy Baghdad to keep OIG's numbers in Iraq below what we believed was needed to perform our oversight work," Burgess said. "The purpose of Mr. Geisel's e-mail was to emphasize to the department that a strong OIG needed to have a strong presence in Iraq. In fact, OIG stood firm and sent a full complement to Baghdad. The e-mail is absolutely appropriate and, as Mr. Geisel told the congressional staff, he is 'proud of it.' "

Burgess said Geisel has known Kennedy "for many years, although they have never served together at any overseas post or in any department office, and have never had a social relationship."

The POGO missive raises other objections, including Kennedy's level of involvement in procurement issues.

In another e-mail obtained by POGO, State Department officials cited concerns that Kennedy was interfering in an April 2008 contract proposal.

In the e-mail, a State Department staffer wrote that he had been instructed to delay releasing a request for proposals for a contract to build a U.S. embassy facility in Djibouti, Africa, until Kennedy could decide on the status of a contractor's request to be qualified to bid. The firm, Aurora LLC, was not qualified to bid because of poor performance on other projects and was requesting reconsideration, according to the e-mail.

The staffer noted Kennedy's involvement "is a real problem. The [contracting officer] makes the call -- do we really want the [undersecretary] advocating for a contractor?"

Aurora did not win the Djibouti embassy contract.

Citing multiple sources, POGO said the IG's office is "conducting an ongoing criminal investigation involving Aurora LLC, and Kennedy, who has been accused of influencing the award of contracts in Aurora's favor."

Neither the State Department nor Aurora, based in Rockville, Md., responded to requests for comment on the alleged investigation.

Burgess said POGO's claims in the letter about the criminal investigation are "inaccurate," but he declined to elaborate, citing the office's policy against commenting on ongoing investigations.

Sources told POGO that Geisel recused himself from the alleged investigation because of a perceived conflict of interest. "A recusal is a proper measure for officials to make when there is a reasonable belief that relationships could interfere with decision-making," Brian wrote. "However, in Geisel's case, the recusal itself is a tacit admission that he has either a real or perceived conflict of interest with management. POGO does not believe Geisel can appropriately act as an independent IG if he has a real or perceived conflict of interest with a senior official in the State Department whose responsibilities are often the target of the IG's audits and investigations."

State's Office of Inspector General has been led by an acting management official with Foreign Service experience for five of the past seven years. POGO's letter suggested State's reliance on such officials to serve as acting IG creates the appearance of a conflict of interest.

"As the State Department's mission is growing in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, the need for an independent and effective watchdog is even more important," said POGO investigator Jake Wiens. "How can Geisel do his job rooting out waste, fraud and abuse if he has even an appearance of a conflict of interest with the State Department's head manager?"

The IG's office disagrees. "Since taking over OIG in 2008, Mr. Geisel has worked tirelessly with Congress to increase the resources and oversight capabilities of the office," Burgess said. "Under his leadership, OIG has more than doubled the number of criminal investigators, and the number of investigations has gone from 37 in fiscal 2007 to over 100 in each of the three years that Mr. Geisel has been here." The spokesman added that POGO did not contact the IG's office for comment before releasing the letter.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.