Sen. Susan M. Collins uses the terms "shocking" and "unacceptable" to describe the reinstatement of the four State Department officials who had been placed on administrative leave after last September's deadly terrorist attack in Benghazi. The moderate Maine Republican has a gift for understatement.
Secretary of State John Kerry decided this week to end the taxpayer-funded vacations of the four bureaucrats singled out by an Accountability Review Board in connection with the failure of the State Department, then headed by Hillary Rodham Clinton, to respond to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens' repeated, urgent pleas for added security at the consulate long before the Sept. 11, 2012, attack. Stevens and three other Americans died as a result, yet the four have been rewarded with fresh, new jobs at Foggy Bottom.
After nearly a year, none of the Islamist terrorist perpetrators have been brought to justice. An enterprising CNN reporter in Libya late last month tracked down and interviewed Ahmed Abu Khattala, said to be the "lead suspect" in the attack, but somehow the FBI couldn't find him.
"Obama administration officials repeatedly promised the families of victims and the American people that officials responsible for security failures would be held accountable," said Rep. Darrell E. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "Instead of accountability, the State Department offered a charade." The California Republican described the bureaucrats' reinstatement as "a game of musical chairs where no one misses a single day on the State Department payroll." He rightly vowed to expand his investigation of Benghazi to include Mr. Kerry's decision.
Mr. Kerry appears to be following in the steps of his predecessor, Mrs. Clinton, who said, "What difference, at this point, does it make?" regarding the need to get to the bottom of what caused the death of our diplomats. Mr. Kerry made his decision after reviewing the review board's report, which said that the employees in question had shown a lack of "proactive leadership and management authority," but committed no "breach of duty" necessitating specific disciplinary action.
The report was little more than a stern-sounding whitewash that stopped short of calling for any officials to be fired. That's not surprising considering the board never interviewed the four employees or their supervisors. State Department deputy spokesman Marie Harf said Tuesday that putting the four on administrative leave with pay for eight months has been punishment enough.
That's galling for anyone who has ever been sacked from a private-sector job. It remains virtually impossible to fire anyone, for any reason, in the federal government. Federal managers often find it easier to reshuffle job descriptions than go through the tedious termination process. A USA Today study found that in fiscal 2010, the federal government fired just 0.55 percent of its 2.1 million-strong workforce. As the paper put it, "Death — rather than poor performance, misconduct or layoffs — is the primary threat to job security."
Exhibit A is Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the other administration scandal involving the agency's targeting of conservative groups. This week, she began her fourth month of sitting at home while pocketing $3,400 a week. It's nice non-work, if you can get it.
The Washington Times