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Waste, Fraud and Abuse at the U.S. Department of State

By Dorie Southern

The latest news is that the State Department is scheduled to take over running the U. S. military operations in Iraq with the help of contracts put together by well trained contracting officers who will be watching the bottom line. According to a report in the Washington Post by Mary Beth Sheridan “The State Department is racing against an end-of-year deadline to take over Iraq operations from the U.S. military, throwing together buildings and marshaling contractors in its biggest overseas operation since the effort to rebuild Europe after World War II.”

That sounds pretty impressive, but my experience with waste, fraud, and abuse in contracting at the State Department leaves me with the feeling that we are heading for a “train wreck.” The State Department does not have well trained contracting officers and it does not have working controls over the contracting process. How do I know? Because I used to be the contracting officer’s representative for the contract for glassware for high level diplomatic residences overseas. My program that had run for more than fifty years, having begun as part of the Marshall Plan, was hijacked and used as a political payoff. Despite my reporting my concerns to the Department of State’s Office of the Inspector General, and some spotty reporting in the press, no one was held to account for the mishandling of the contract.

Like most whistleblowers, I was shown the door. I received no protection from the Office of Special Counsel, which is supposed to keep whistleblowers from experiencing retaliation. My appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board languishes. Ironically, the company that received the no-bid contact was taken to court by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for providing fraudulent information on a contract with them. The State Department did nothing to protect itself from abuse. Instead, it enabled it by writing a padded contract.

The State Department paid the contractor something on the order of $800,000 to a million dollars and so far as I can tell no product was received for all that money. I do not know exactly what happened to the contract because my duties were taken from me in order to keep me from knowing what was going on.

I caused enough of a stir that the Under Secretary for Management Pat Kennedy was called to the Hill to meet with the two senators from New York and a senator from Ohio. He agreed that the contract should be re-advertised (and after about a year it was, but by the same contracting officer who wrote the initial contract that favored the contractor over the government.) After the senators met with Mr. Kennedy I wrote each one of them a letter telling them what had happened to the contract and to me. I spoke with one aide but nothing more came of it.

Since the senators were all Democrats I concluded that perhaps they had heard from Hillary Clinton and were told to back off. That is a conspiracy theory. One thing that is indisputable is that they did back off. I contacted my own representative and told him of my mistreatment as a whistleblower back in April 2011. I am still waiting for a response.

Having only contacted Democrats up to that point, and since the power structure of the House had changed hands, I decided to contact Darrell Issa, chairman of the government oversight and reform committee. Again I reported the waste, fraud, and abuse I had uncovered and told about my whistleblower experience. As yet I am still awaiting a response. Could it be that the Democrats and the Republicans are not really opposition parties at all? Could it be that they hold the American people and government workers in contempt?

I am particularly concerned that Rep. Issa had sent a letter to the Department of State questioning the awarding of the contract. He received a reply from State with inaccurate answers to his questions. I sent him correct responses to those same questions, but apparently he had lost interest by then. Had he also heard from Secretary Clinton?

After the State Department wasted close to a million dollars on glassware and never received one glass, one might think that heads would roll. But the only one that did was mine. My supervisor was promoted. I have learned from sources within my former office that he is now on track to spend $200,000 on a contract for training provided by Howard University to help his group of designers get along. That equals about $20,000 per person. Could it be that the waste, fraud, and abuse is continuing?

Meanwhile, the man in charge of Overseas Building Operations, where the buck should stop to keep the heat off of Hillary, has a new assignment as ambassador to Ecuador. A friend suggested that I might contact the congressional committee that would confirm his appointment to tell them what happened. But he was only doing his job. Why shouldn’t he be rewarded?

Back in Iraq we are to believe that government contracts are being awarded carefully to avoid waste, fraud, and abuse. Is the State Department on a Marshall Plan mission to strengthen democracy in Iraq, or is the State Department on a mission to steal oil from the people of Iraq? It all depends if you are drinking clean clear water or Kool-Aid.


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