Report: IG Is Investigating State Dept. Reassignments
House Democrats had requested an inquiry into career staff being moved to FOIA office, other posts.
Officials at the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General reportedly have confirmed that the office is formally investigating whether career employees were reassigned to posts outside their area of expertise for political reasons.
Talking Points Memo reported that OIG spokeswoman Sarah Breen described the review as “ongoing.” Breen did not respond to Government Executive’s request for comment.
A probe into State Department reassignments was originally requested by Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., in January, at which point the watchdog agency said it was “looking into” allegations of retaliation against employees based on projects they worked on during the Obama administration.
“Our staffs have been made aware of credible allegations that the State Department has required high-level career civil servants, with distinguished records serving administrations of both parties, to move to performing tasks outside of their area of substantive expertise,” the congressmen wrote in January. “At the very least, this is a waste of taxpayer dollars. At worst, it may constitute impermissible abuse and retaliation.”
Whistleblowers told Cummings and Engel’s staffs that career employees had been placed in “career purgatory” because they worked on Obama administration priorities like refugee policy and the Iran nuclear agreement. Lawrence Bartlett, head of refugee admissions at the agency’s Population, Refugees and Migration bureau, notably had been reassigned to the Freedom of Information Act office.
In March, Cummings and Engel sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan requesting documents related to a group of conservative activists’ consultation with both the White House and the State Department on career employee reassignment proposals, after whistleblowers provided communications suggesting former politicians and media personalities suggested a purge of career employees seen as Obama loyalists in the agency.
“We have obtained extremely disturbing new documents from a whistleblower indicating that high-level officials at the White House and State Department worked with a network of conservative activists to conduct a ‘cleaning’ of employees they believed were not sufficiently ‘supportive’ of President Trump’s agenda,” the lawmakers wrote. “They appear to have targeted these staffers despite being fully aware that they were career civil service employees and despite the career employees expressing willingness to support the policy priorities of the Trump administration.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was quoted in the obtained communications as saying, “I think a cleaning is in order here.” And White House Liaison Julia Haller allegedly suggested that an employee be reassigned or removed because of her previous work on the Iran nuclear deal and where she was born.
“As background, she worked on the Iran Deal, specifically works on Iran within [the Policy Planning Staff], was born in Iran and upon my understanding cried when the president won,” Haller said, according to Cummings and Engel.
A Cummings spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Friday.