State Department Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell announced on Monday that employees identified by the Accountability Review Board as responsible for the security failures that lead to the Benghazi attacks are receiving pay after five months on administrative leave. They are not, however, doing any work for the State Department.
On January 23rd of this year, outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that four individuals had been removed from their jobs and put on “administrative leave.” Clinton cited the strict regulations that limit the Department’s ability to discipline employees as the reason more aggressive action wasn’t taken.
Former Obama for America Press Secretary turned State Department Spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, gave an update on May 16th in response to inquiries about the status of the four employees placed on “administrative leave” by the State Department:
QUESTION: Jen, there is another thing that doesn’t have to do with money here in the Menendez bill, and it’s part of the ARB, which says it will authorize disciplinary action in cases of unsatisfactory leadership by senior officials related to a security incident that does not presently exist – in other words, in the future. Does that have any retroactive effect on the people who are – I believe there are four who are kind of in this limbo of not being fired and yet not really working and still drawing pay.
MS. PSAKI: […] Secretary Clinton, as you know, began an administrative process to review the status of the four individuals placed on administrative leave. That review process continues. Secretary Kerry has been briefed regularly and will be making a decision soon. No, I can’t define what soon means, just to preempt a question. And decisions will be made about the status of these employees. None of these individuals – and I believe Patrick touched on this, so let me just reiterate for those of you who were not here – none of these individuals identified by the Accountability Review Board are in the positions held prior to the report’s release and at the time of the attack.
QUESTION: But they’re still all getting a salary five months after they were put on administrative leave, right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this process, Brad, can take some time. That’s why the Secretary asked for regular updates and we’ll be making a decision to –
QUESTION: Are they still coming to the building, or do they get to go to, like, the beach?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything specific about their locations.
QUESTION: Well, no, I mean, do they have to show up to work? Or can they draw this salary from home?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not familiar. I don’t have in front of me their specific roles. I’ll take a look and see if there’s anything more specific I can get back to you.
Ventrell clarified Psaki’s statements on Monday, saying that the “accountable” State Department employees have been drawing their paychecks for five months from home, or perhaps the beach. “The review process continues,” Ventrell explained.
“Let me just clarify here. It’s important to remember we’re dealing with four individuals who – that we discussed are long-serving government officials who over the years have provided dedicated service to the U.S. Government in challenging assignments, and career Foreign Service employees are entitled to due process and legal protections under the Foreign Service Act with respect to any potential disciplinary action.”
Ventrell also reminded AP reporter Matt Lee that “those who need to be held accountable … are the terrorists … So that’s first and foremost when we talk about accountability.” The spokesman went on to reassure the press that the status of the employees has not changed for five months and Secretary Kerry is being updated of the ongoing internal review.
Read the transcript and watch the full exchange below:
QUESTION: One of the last things on that fact sheet was actual accountability and holding people responsible for – and the implementation of that – it seems not to answer the – the stuff in italics below doesn’t seem to answer the question of what’s happened to the people who were criticized or singled out for blame in this. It simply says you’re working with Congress. What is the status of the people who were – who the Board identified as having shown or demonstrated failures in leadership and management?
MR. VENTRELL: There’s a couple different issues here, Matt. First of all is the issue of the individuals you mention. And Jen talked a little bit about this last week, but just to reiterate and add a little bit more detail, that Secretary Clinton began an administrative process to review the status of these four individuals placed on administrative leave. That review process continues, and Secretary Kerry will be continually updated as decisions are made about the status of these employees. None of the individuals identified by the ARB are in the positions held prior to the report’s release, at the time of the attack, and the internal administrative process can take some time. The four remain on administrative leave until a decision is made on their status. They are not currently performing any job for the Department during this period.
Separately from that, there is this issue that one of the recommendations was that the ARB needed the ability to have unsatisfactory leadership performance by senior officials in relation to a security incident under review should be a potential basis for discipline recommendations by future ARBs. So that was a recommendation of theirs. It’s something that we provided legislation up to the Hill, with a recommendation to that regard.
QUESTION: Right. But in terms of the actual accountability for what happened in terms of security in the months before September 11th last year –
MR. VENTRELL: Those who need to be held accountable, Matt, are the terrorists, first of all. So that’s first and foremost when we talk about accountability. In terms of looking internally at our processes and –
QUESTION: Well, I’m talking about the ARB –
MR. VENTRELL: — what could have been done better –
QUESTION: — the ARB recommendations. And the ARB doesn’t – I mean, maybe it does recommend going after the people who actually did this, but – who actually committed the attack, but it did mention these four individuals that you’re talking about. And so I just want to make sure that nothing has changed since what you said last week: They’re still on administrative leave; they’re still being paid but they’re not working?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. My point was you’re conflating accountability and discipline. So accountability, those who are accountable for the crimes are those who committed them. On a discipline status –
QUESTION: Well, then, why is it called an Accountability – the Accountability Review Board doesn’t go and identify X, Mr. X –
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: — who was one of the people who attacked the embassy. The Accountability Review Board – discipline and accountability, I think, are the same thing here, no?
MR. VENTRELL: All right. Let me just clarify here. It’s important to remember we’re dealing with four individuals who – that we discussed are long-serving government officials who over the years have provided dedicated service to the U.S. Government in challenging assignments, and career Foreign Service employees are entitled to due process and legal protections under the Foreign Service Act with respect to any potential disciplinary action. So –
QUESTION: I know all that. I just wanted – nothing has changed in terms of –
MR. VENTRELL: Nothing. I have no update for you, Matt.
MR. VENTRELL: There’s still – the internal review is still ongoing.
QUESTION: Thank you.