The State Department has a new problem to contend with: Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) has pledged to stop all State Department nominations from proceeding until Secretary of State John Kerry appoints an inspector general, potentially delaying confirmation of Samantha Power, President Obama’s choice to represent America at the United Nations.
“I am deeply concerned that President Obama has refused to nominate an Inspector General to the State Department for his entire presidency and that this important position has been vacant for nearly 2,000 days. This is unacceptable,” Cruz wrote in a Tuesday to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Kentucky), obtained by The Daily Beast.
“Therefore, I intend to object to any nomination for the State Department, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), or the Broadcasting Board of Governors until President Obama nominates a credible and independent Inspector General for the State Department.”
Power, a former senior White House staffer close to Obama and Kerry, was on Capitol Hill on Tuesday meeting with senators ahead of her confirmation hearing to replace Susan Rice at the U.S. mission to the U.N. in New York. Rice takes over next month as Obama’s national-security adviser, replacing Tom Donilon.
It’s been 1,988 days since the last full-time State Department inspector general stepped down in January 2008, according to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), and the State Department’s deputy inspector general, Howard Geisel, has been serving in an acting capacity since then.
“During the last five years, there have been deadly attacks on U.S. diplomatic personnel in Libya, mismanagement of security contractors at our embassy in Afghanistan, and hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars wasted for police training in Iraq. These issues highlight the State Department's need for an Inspector General as soon as possible,” Cruz said in a Wednesday statement.
Cruz didn’t mention the biggest scandal to hit the State Department’s IG office in years, which is the revelation by a IG office whistleblower that the senior leadership of that office allegedly thwarted several investigations over the past four years, including allegations that U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman solicited prostitutes in a public park, that the use of prostitutes among Hillary Clinton’s personal security detail was “endemic,” and that there was an underground drug ring that serviced State Department security contractors in the Baghdad embassy.
Gutman denies any wrongdoing, but Obama announced his replacement last week, Denise Bauer, whose nomination now could also be held up by Cruz. Over a dozen other ambassador candidates could also be delayed by Cruz’s new action.
Cruz is not alone. The leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Oversight Committee have been pressing Kerry to fill the vacancy for months. The Government Accountability Office has also criticized State for failing to have an inspector general, and POGO even started a letter-writing campaign on the issue.
State Department sources told The Daily Beast that outgoing ambassador to Syria Robert Ford might be in contention for the job, but his appointment wouldn’t likely satisfy lawmakers like Cruz, who want State to appoint someone independent, not a foreign-service officer from their own ranks.
“This is a crucial oversight position and should be a priority for an agency facing substantial management challenges,” said Cruz. “While several federal agencies are operating without a Senate-confirmed Inspector General, only the State Department has been without a credible and independent Inspector General for so long.”
"As we've said previously, and as the Secretary himself has said publicly, the secretary and the president identified an excellent candidate for inspector general, and we look forward to the nomination becoming public after the vetting and paperwork process is complete," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told The Daily Beast. "This is a position that’s particularly important to the secretary and to the president."