House Democrats rebuke State's IG
Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee criticized the State Department’s inspector general yesterday for his management style, oversight and conduct in several high-profile investigations involving contractors — including a probe into computers bought by an agency contractor in Afghanistan that were believed to contain pirated software.
The committee’s Democratic members issued a report on Howard Krongard’s conduct since he took over as IG, based on committee investigations and interviews with 13 former and current officials.
“It is a staggering list of allegations from Mr. Krongard’s own staff,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the committee’s chairman.
Republicans on the committee issued their own report calling the Democrats’ charges sensational and saying that the investigation amounted to a personal attack and that holding a hearing on the IG’s management style represented “an abuse of the committee’s authority.”
In the report, the Democrats said they had evidence that Krongard had impeded the investigation and the potential criminal prosecution of procurement fraud involving State contractor DynCorp International by refusing to authorize IG agents’ travel requests.
One of the cases mentioned in the report involved as many as 2,000 laptop computers that DynCorp bought through a subcontractor in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fall 2006, State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs became concerned that the computers might have contained counterfeit hardware and pirated software. Furthermore, because the operating systems were bought locally, officials believed they could have been susceptible to monitoring by terrorists, according to the report.
Krongard refused to send an IG agent to Afghanistan to secure 105 suspect computers for the investigation despite repeated requests from the IG office’s staff. He preferred that State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security in Afghanistan handle the situation. However, the bureau and the Army refused to secure the operating systems due to lack of resources, according to the report. The investigation was closed in early 2007 without criminal prosecution.
Democratic lawmakers also criticized the IG for allegedly impeding the Justice Department’s investigations into Blackwater, a private security firm and State contractor. The FBI is investigating Blackwater for an incident in September that resulted in the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians.
The Nov. 14 committee hearing took a dramatic turn when Krongard initially denied that his brother had ties to Blackwater and later called his brother during a hearing recess in response to Democratic lawmakers’ statements that his brother was registered at the Virginia hotel where a Blackwater advisory board meeting was set to take place.
After confirming his brother’s involvement with the company, Krongard recused himself from all Blackwater investigations.
Democrats also questioned the IG’s political independence. Committee Republicans and Krongard argued that those concerns were unfounded and that Krongard had never even met President Bush. Furthermore, Krongard said he had read Waxman’s report on the politicization of IGs and believed he was the kind of person Waxman was looking for in an IG.
Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) blasted Waxman for not having the former and current officials who answered the staff’s questions present at the hearing so the IG could respond to their accusations.
“What troubles me about this committee is that you were not confronted by your accusers,” Shays said.
Krongard maintained that although he had made mistakes, he was doing a tough job to the best of his ability. He also asserted that the House committee had failed to interview a variety of employees to capture a full picture of his enure.
“I’m not disputing that the problem is all somebody else’s,” he said. “I have tried to do the best job I can. I’m not perfect.”
Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.