The watchdog plans to unveil results of inquiries into political retaliation and the hiring freeze in coming weeks.
The State Department’s official watchdog is finalizing several investigations into the Trump administration’s alleged mistreatment of its workforce, its top auditor told lawmakers on Thursday.
State’s inspector general is wrapping up an 18-month probe into alleged prohibited personnel practices by the department’s political appointees at two different offices. Department whistleblowers told lawmakers in early 2018 they were being assigned to tasks unrelated to their normal, substantive duties because of work they had conducted under the Obama administration.
Investigators have opted to deliver two separate probes, one looking at potential misconduct at the Bureau of International Organizations and the other in the Office of the Secretary, Steve Linick, the IG, told the House Appropriations Committee. Linick opted to separate them so the could deliver the results of the international office investigation to State this week. He expected to complete the probe into the secretary’s office next month. Both reports will be made public after State has the opportunity to review and respond to them.
The latter investigation, he said, is “more complex” and involves a parallel inquiry by the Office of Special Counsel. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., who chairs the committee, called it critical for any prohibited personnel practices to be “brought to light” so perpetrators could be disciplined. She pressed Linick for details of the investigation and asked whether State has taken any efforts to rectify problematic behavior, but the IG remained tight lipped. His office previously ran into roadblocks as State refused to make available certain officials for an interview. Lawmakers have also faced barriers to their efforts to secure documents related to the alleged retaliation.
“We want to make sure we get it right,” Linick said. “We want it to be accurate and thorough. It’s a top priority for our office.”
Linick said his office is also in the “final stages” of its investigation into the fallout of State’s hiring freeze, which lasted 16 months until Secretary Mike Pompeo lifted it upon taking office. While Linick said he preferred to let the results of his report speak for themselves, he noted his office has traveled to State outposts around the world and found a department reeling from unfilled vacancies.
“There is evidence that it has affected staffing, for example, in consular operations,” Linick said. “It has affected staffing in bureau of diplomatic security, which obviously affects our security if we have limited staff. It’s affected our IT staff.” He added the civil service was hit particularly hard, and “we have not recovered yet in our civil service staffing levels at this point.”
The IG said the report will make note of the hiring freeze’s impact on the existing workforce, saying it “does have an impact on morale around the world.” High vacancy rates at senior-level positions have further hurt morale, Linick added, as well as strategic planning and relations with host governments.
All told, Linick said, workforce management remains a key challenge for State.
“Inexperienced staff, insufficient training, staffing gaps and frequent turnover contribute to the department’s other management and performance challenges,” he said.
Lowey called on her fellow lawmakers and the Trump administration to ensure the investigations lead to action and reforms.
“You’re doing the reports,” the chairwoman said to the IG. “The question is, what is the executive branch, what is the secretary of State doing? Is there any response? Does anyone care? This is the challenge for all of us.”
Facing questions from Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., about Pompeo’s travel habits to his home state of Kansas—where he is rumored to be considering a run for Senate, despite previously ruling it out—Linick expressed an openness to launching an inquiry.
“We’ll look into any credible allegation of misconduct and happy to work with your staff if you have information about that,” the IG said.