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Watchdog cites possible political retribution at State Dept

Politics

WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department’s internal watchdog has found significant evidence of leadership and management problems, including possible political retribution against career employees, in the bureau that deals with international organizations.

In a report released on Thursday, the department’s inspector general said a review of thousands of emails and dozens of interviews with current and former employees of the Bureau of International Organizations revealed a “negative and vindictive” work environment. The review found employees complained about being frequently berated in public or otherwise mistreated by two senior Trump administration political appointees at the top of the bureau.

“Nearly every employee interviewed … raised concerns” about the bureau’s leadership and “the treatment of staff,” the report said.

Among the complaints documented in the 34-page report were allegations from career employees that Assistant Secretary of State Kevin Moley and his former senior adviser Marie Stull retaliated or tried to retaliate against them because they had served in the previous administration.

“Several career employees reported that throughout her tenure at the Department, Ms. Stull referred to them or to other career employees as ‘Obama holdovers,’ ‘traitors,’ or ‘disloyal,'” the report said. “Other career employees told (the inspector general) that Ms. Stull accused them of being part of the ‘Deep State’ and that the assistant secretary accused them of ‘undermining the president’s agenda.'”

In addition, the report says employees reported that Stull made positive comments about some of their colleagues because she believed they had contributed to Republican political candidates. It says there was no evidence that any formal personnel decisions were made as a result but “the mere discussion of them raises significant concerns as to whether Ms. Stull was engaging in political activity while on duty.” Such activity would be illegal under federal law.

Stull has since left the State Department and did not respond to the allegations. In a response to the report, Moley, who is still serving as the assistant secretary, denied any unprofessional behavior and disputed the inspector general’s characterizations of numerous meetings he had with superiors to discuss concerns about his leadership of the bureau. The report says Moley failed to respond to repeated suggestions on how to improve conditions and only reluctantly agreed to bring on a career assistant to help resolve the concerns.

“The behavior attributed to me regarding raising my voice, berating employees and contributing to a hostile work environment does not represent who I am or who I have ever been,” Moley said.

The State Department said in a statement that it would provide a corrective action plan, as recommended by the inspector general, within 60 days.

The report was conducted in part because of requests from congressional Democrats concerned by anecdotal reports that the Trump administration was retaliating against career officials perceived as opposing the president.

“Today’s report confirms what we feared: ‘disrespectful and hostile’ treatment of career employees at the State Department, including spurious accusations that public servants were ‘disloyal’ and improper retaliation against them,” said Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Engel called for Moley to be fired or to resign.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee who sought the IG probe with Engel, agreed.

“This report leaves no doubt that Trump Administration political appointees have mismanaged the Department and violated the public trust, and the American people deserve swift action to hold those officials accountable and to root out this systemic problem from throughout the State Department and the rest of the Administration,” he said in a statment.

And, Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the investigation showed the administration “has undermined American interests and values and placed our nation in harm’s way. For that they must be held to account — by Congress now and by the American people next year.”

The report is the inspector general’s second scathing review of the Trump administration’s management of the State Department to be released in the past week.

Last Friday, it released a report that said the administration’s 2017 hiring freeze at the State Department had devastating effects, hurting core functions such as providing services to U.S. citizens abroad and protecting embassies.

The department’s inspector general said all domestic offices and nearly all overseas missions surveyed reported that the freeze had a “negative or very negative effect on morale.” It said 96% of embassies and consulates overseas and 95% of offices in the U.S. reported negative effects on security, consular and administrative operations. Those included oversight of millions of dollars in counter-terrorism, health, human rights and humanitarian assistance programs from Afghanistan to Venezuela.

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