Two key Biden government agencies have instructed their staffs not to provide information or communicate with the government watchdog responsible for detecting waste and corruption in Afghanistan, the watchdog’s head said.
John Sopkowho heads the office of the Special Inspector General for Reconstruction of Afghanistan (CIGAR), wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and USAID Administrator Samantha Power on Wednesday to say that their agencies “unreasonably refuse to provide information and assistance requested by SIGAR.”
Sopko wrote that historically, the state and USAID have complied with requests for information from SIGAR, which was established in 2008, and that no other government has ever questioned SIGAR’s jurisdiction. “Inexplicably, this long track record of cooperation seems to have come to an abrupt end,” he said. “Agency officials now appear to have taken a preconceived stance of obstruction.”
Information from the state and USAID dried up months ago, according to three congressional officials and a government official familiar with the process. Biden administration officials argued that the US is no longer involved in reconstruction in Afghanistan, so SIGAR is outside the inspector general’s jurisdiction.
In one case, in response to a SIGAR request for information on October 1, 2021, the State General Council and USAID wrote back nearly seven months later, arguing that “humanitarian and development aid activities are outside of SIGAR’s current mandate. “
Sopko’s letter states that the State and USAID are breaking the law by withholding information. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2008 specifies that government officials cannot prevent the IG from carrying out its work.
“I respectfully request that you direct state and USAID officials to cease their illegal interference with SIGAR’s oversight work and provide requested information and assistance without delay,” Sopko wrote.
Congress instructed SIGAR to complete several assessments following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, including examining the collapse of the Afghan government, evaluating the performance of the Afghan security forces before August 2021, determining whether the State Department and Comply with USAID laws prohibiting transfers of funds to the Taliban and evaluation of humanitarian and development programs for the Afghan people.
The agency also has ongoing audit work that it is still completing, according to its recent quarterly report to Congress.
SIGAR spokesman Philip LaVelle declined to comment.
Asked if the State Department is still working with SIGAR, spokesman Ned Price noted: the recent SIGAR report on the collapse of the Afghan security forces and said: “Our view is that the report does not reflect the consensus view of the State Department or the US government, by the way. Many parts of the US government, including the State Department, have unique insights into developments in Afghanistan last year that are not captured in the report, and we disagree with many aspects of the report.”
Price said: “SIGAR did not request input from the State Department during the preparation of this report, nor did they give us an opportunity to review the draft before finalization, as has been a regular process for other reports. If we have any further response to letters sent today and responses given today, we will be sure to pass them along.”
USAID, which manages civilian foreign aid, is an independent agency overseen by the Secretary of State.
In December 2021, the Office of Management Budget issued guidance that President Joe Biden expects agencies to restore the respect and integrity of the inspectors general and that it is the duty of agency personnel to cooperate.
But Sopko’s letter states that a State Department official has informed SIGAR that State Department personnel have been “given internal instructions not to contact or speak with SIGAR without prior approval from the State Department.” legal counsel to the state”, an indication that could violate the legal protections of whistleblowers.
“It is now clear that offices and staff who have cooperated with similar requests in the past have been silenced or drowned out by officials who opposed SIGAR’s independent oversight,” he wrote.
State also informed SIGAR that it would no longer participate in future financial audits, but would “choose its own auditors from now on,” Sopko wrote.
Sopko also briefed the chairmen and rankings of the Senate and House Committees on Armed Forces, Foreign Relations, Homeland Security and Appropriations.