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Biden roils oversight community with nominations for Ukraine aid watchdogs

The administration is facing blowback for passing over the acting inspectors general at USAID and the State Department.

Reporting | Washington Politics

The White House sent waves through the oversight community yesterday when it announced  its nominations for new inspectors general for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID.

In a move that a senior official in the oversight community called “unusual” and “surprising,” the Biden administration passed over the women currently serving in the roles in favor of two male candidates with limited foreign policy experience.

“The nominations were surprising to many in the IG community given the visibility and the attention to the work that these two women were [doing] and continue to do on the most prolific foreign policy oversight issues we’ve ever had,” the official told RS. “Ukraine has been their number one priority.”

The news comes as debates in Washington rage over how to best conduct oversight of the $113 billion that Congress has allocated to support Ukraine’s defense against Russian troops. The State Department and USAID are responsible for $46.1 billion of those funds.

In the House defense policy bill passed earlier this month, Republicans included a measure to establish a special inspector general for Ukraine aid, modeled after the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR. On Wednesday night, the Senate shot down a similar amendment to its version of the annual defense policy bill in a 20-78 vote.

President Joe Biden opposes efforts to create a special IG for Ukraine and said he wants to remove it from the final version of the bill. In a White House statement, the administration argued that a special watchdog would be unnecessary given that there are already “multiple investigations regarding every aspect of this assistance — from assessing the processes for developing security assistance requirements to evaluating the end-use monitoring processes for delivered assistance.”

But some worry that removing the current acting inspectors general could have a negative impact on those investigations. “Any new IG, there’s a learning curve,” the official said. “There’s a degree of diplomacy that’s involved,” they added, noting that the current IGs have “had those in-person meetings with the Ukrainians in Kyiv.”

Paul Martin, who now heads up the IG office at NASA, was nominated to replace Nicole Angarella as the USAID IG, and Cardell Richardson, Sr., the top watchdog of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, is slated to take over from Diana Shaw at State. Martin has never held a foreign policy-related position, while Richardson has largely served in roles related to the military and intelligence communities.

It is unclear why the Biden administration chose to pass over Angarella and Shaw. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Biden nominated Angarella for the USAID IG position back in 2021, but her candidacy languished due to squabbles between the White House and Senate leaders. Her nomination expired when the new Congress took office in January. Shaw, for her part, has served as the acting IG for State since late 2020 but was never nominated to officially take over the role.

If Congress moves quickly to approve Martin and Richardson’s nominations, it will be welcome news to those who worry about the limits on “acting” officials. As Lynne Halbrooks — a former acting IG for the Pentagon — told RS last year, long vacancies can have a “devastating” effect on an agency’s internal operations, “which ultimately might have an effect on the oversight mission.”

But it remains unclear whether the nominees will have an easy path forward in the Senate, especially given ongoing partisan battles over Ukraine aid oversight.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks to Department of Defense personnel, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
Reporting | Washington Politics
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