Did an IG Vacancy Delay Exposure of Clinton Emails?
POGO criticizes State Department watchdog for overlooking issues at highest levels.
State Department Inspector General Steve Linick took office on Sept. 30, 2013, following an unusual five-year vacancy. Because that period covered Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of State, the absence of a full-time watchdog might have delayed a more aggressive investigation of her business use of personal email, according to a nonprofit investigator.
In a Friday blogpost titled “State Department Watchdog Didn’t Bark About Clinton Email,” veteran reporter David Hilzenrath, chief editor for the Project on Government Oversight, said a State IG report on email policy released just days after the Clinton story broke this month “raises as many questions about the performance of its author -- the department’s internal watchdog office -- as it does about the email problem.”
The IG report, based on information gathered from January-March 2014, reported that “record email usage varies widely across bureaus and missions. The Bureau of Administration needs to exercise central oversight of the use of the record email function.”
Previously labeled as “sensitive but unclassified,” that report, Hilzenrath said, might originally have been shielded from public view. “As reflected in an appendix to the report, the data the IG’s office gathered hinted that the problem extended to the secretary’s office,” he wrote. “However, instead of pursuing that lead, the report essentially declared the secretary’s email beyond the scope of its analysis.” Said the report in a footnote: “These assessments do not apply to the system used by the department’s high-level principals, the secretary, the deputy secretaries, the under secretaries, and their immediate staffs, which maintain separate systems.”
Failure to examine the policies of the higher-ups, POGO suggested, may be the result of an acting IG—who often are “weaker watchdogs,” in POGO’s view. In State’s case, the acting IG was a longtime member of the diplomatic corps.
“Even under new leadership, the Inspector General’s Office had ample opportunity to spotlight the problem with Clinton’s emails,” POGO wrote, noting that problems with State compliance with records-keeping rules were probed during Clinton’s tenure, in an IG office report released in September 2012. The department’s earlier efforts to encourage email retention using a system called State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset, and IG spokesman told POGO, did not extend to the higher-level executives, confirming that “the State Department’s internal watchdog learned about Clinton’s email practice when the public did.”