Watchdogs: Having the Authority to Hire People Faster Would Strengthen Oversight of Ukraine Aid
The State, Defense and U.S. Agency for International Development inspectors general are also looking to place staff at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv.
The federal watchdogs overseeing billions of U.S. assistance to Ukraine to fend off Russia's invasion asked lawmakers on Wednesday for more hiring authorities, so they can do their work more effectively.
“Some of the federal government hiring authorities that we currently have do take a long time to onboard people and so what we’re looking for are flexible hiring authorities,” like what they have for overseas contingency operations, said Diana Shaw, deputy IG performing the duties of State inspector general, in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The IG is also looking for the “ability to bring on temporary and surge staff to support this work,” she said.
The total number of additional staff brought on would depend on several factors, including the timing of hiring authorities they are given, the State IG office said on Friday.
Similarly, Nicole Angarella, acting deputy IG performing the duties of U.S. Agency for International Development IG, said that “any flexibilities we can have that can expedite our ability to bring on experienced staff would help us do that work.”
For the State and USAID watchdogs, “these flexibilities include the ability to retain temporary employees or re-employed annuitants on a continuing basis and allowing for surge staffing that mitigates the delays of the normal federal hiring process,” said a report the three watchdogs released this week.
Robert Storch, Defense IG, also said his office could benefit from direct hiring authority “to enable us to be a little bit more agile and flexible in getting staff onboard.”
In conjunction with hiring abilities, the watchdogs are also looking for the ability to place staff at the U.S Embassy in Kyiv, but they are navigating the State Department’s limitations on U.S. government personnel in the country.
“In order to conduct the most effective oversight, the OIGs believe it is necessary to establish a persistent presence in Ukraine, where programming is occurring and funds are flowing,” the watchdogs’ joint report stated. Having a dedicated presence in Kyiv and not having to rely on ad hoc travel, would also mitigate “heightened operational security and classification concerns regarding information transmission and storage.”
The Defense IG has more than 90 staff doing Ukraine related work, 17 of which are in Europe (with others traveling there periodically), according to the IGs’ report. The office is adding at least four auditors, four investigators and two evaluators in Europe. “The DoD OIG is in consultation with State and the DoD on placing staff at the U.S Embassy in Kyiv,” the report said. “Additionally, the DoD OIG has the ability to expand its footprint as necessary through partnerships with military service oversight agencies stationed in Europe.”
The State IG has more than 100 staff working on Ukraine efforts, the majority of which are in the United States, but 11 are in Germany. This month the office submitted a request to establish three permanent positions at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.
USAID’s watchdog has more than 60 employees working at least-part time on Ukraine oversight with more than 50 in the United States and 12 in Germany. It has requested two positions at the embassy “with the objective of securing more full-time positions on the continent closer to Ukraine and other bilateral donors, international organizations and their respective oversight bodies,” according to the report.
Reps. Jason Crow, D-Colo., ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs’ subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability, and Michael Waltz, R-Fla., a member of the subcommittee, raised concerns about the personnel limit at the embassy in Kyiv to Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month. Politico reported last month that the department is looking to fully staff the embassy by the summer.
"We thoroughly appreciate the vital role that the OIGs play in oversight at this critical point and we support a robust on-the-ground OIG presence in Kyiv," said a State Department spokesperson. "The department is committed to welcoming a permanent OIG presence and is currently working out the logistics of this request. In the meantime, Embassy Kyiv is currently welcoming OIG personnel traveling to Kyiv on a [temporary duty] basis."
The offices have not yet identified general patterns of misuse of Ukraine assistance, but officials testified that they don’t foresee this mission ending anytime soon.
In order to advance that mission, Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, asked if there is a need for a special IG for Ukraine oversight to bolster oversight abilities, like there is for Afghanistan. Republican lawmakers have already introduced legislation to create such a position.
The State Department’s Shaw replied that they have an “excellent model” of oversight with the collaboration of the State, USAID and Defense IGs, along with other IG offices and government oversight agencies (such as the Government Accountability Office) to “address this cross-cutting, interagency oversight work.” She added that this model has been used in other contexts. “I think it's been very effective” with Ukraine, she said. Adding another layer could “potentially result in a redundant mandate, duplicative costs, duplication of effort.”
This article has been updated with comment from the State Department.