- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are calling on Secretary of State John F. Kerry to “detail what personnel actions” the State Department has taken following security failures in the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.

In a letter to Mr. Kerry on Wednesday, the lawmakers requested an explanation about disciplinary actions taken against four department employees accused of displaying “leadership and management deficiencies” by the administration-appointed panel that examined the attacks.

The State Department has failed to reveal the status of the employees, citing privacy issues, but the lawmakers’ letter made reference to stories in the press that “indicated that these officials were ‘relieved of their duties,’ thus implying their employment had been terminated.”

“However, by all accounts, these individuals have instead been placed on administrative leave and may or may not be returning to work,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. It was signed by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce, California Republican, along with 14 other GOP members of the committee.

Mr. Royce and the other Republicans said that at least one of the employees has not been informed of why he was removed from his post nor allowed to review the report’s conclusions about his performance.

State Department officials have said their hands were tied with respect to disciplinary action that could be taken against the four. Failure to show leadership is not a disciplinary offense and, as career government employees, the four are protected by personnel rules designed to shield civil servants from arbitrary or politicized firings.

Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed when armed militants overran the post on Sept. 11 and attacked a nearby CIA facility in Benghazi. The State Department did not respond to requests for comment on the letter.

The lawmakers said they were eager to get Mr. Kerry’s take of the situation and to find out what steps have been taken to resolve the employment status of the employees.

“When appearing before the Committee on April 17, 2013, you testified that you would soon be weighing in on an ‘internal review and analysis’ of the performance of these individuals with respect to their handling of security issues,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Now that over one month has passed since your testimony, and over a full five months have passed since the [Accountability Review Board] issued its report, we expect an immediate update on this process, and confirmation as to whether the referenced personnel are still employed by the Department.”

Following the release in December of findings by the probe into the attacks — officially called an Accountability Review Board — conflicting reports swirled through the media about the fate of four State Department employees who had been cited in the findings for failures of leadership.

Several reports maintained the four officials had “quit” their posts after being criticized in the findings of the board, which was headed by former longtime diplomat Thomas Pickering.

A New York Times report quoted a “State Department spokeswoman” as saying the four officials had “been placed on administrative leave pending further action.”

Republicans from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who wrote to Mr. Kerry on Wednesday, appear to have missed the quote.

The letter made no mention of the names of the four State Department employees in question, but the lawmakers appeared to be referring to the case of Raymond Maxwell, a deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for North Africa, who was among the four department officials apparently placed on administrative leave.

The Daily Beast reported May 20 that Mr. Maxwell “remains in professional and legal limbo” five months after being told to clean out his desk and leave the State Department. The news website also reported that he has “filed grievances regarding his treatment with the State Department’s Human Resources Bureau and the American Foreign Service Association, which represents the interests of foreign service officers.

Less is known about the cases and identities of the three other State Department employees cited by the administration-appointed probe. News reports have identified two of them as Eric Boswell, assistant secretary for diplomatic security, and Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary in charge of security at U.S. embassies around the globe.

• Shaun Waterman contributed to this report.