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The Biden administration has rapidly rehired several officials who were fired during the waning day of the Trump administration for serious breaches and lapses in security.
According to an analysis by Just the News, the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which is home to Voice of America and the entity that funds nonprofit broadcasters in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, also rehired someone who resigned his post before an investigation into him was complete.
“The media portrayed them as whistleblowers protecting journalistic integrity from political appointees who wanted to dictate their coverage. Official summaries of their investigations by an outside law firm, recently entered into the Congressional Record, complicate that narrative,” Just the News reported, adding:
Many alleged violations were related to the agency’s continued performance of background investigations on workers — often foreign nationals — for several years after it lost its “delegated authority” from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
The rehired officials were also granted their security clearances during that time, investigators from McGuireWoods law firm wrote in Dec. 9, 2020 memos. McGuireWoods was the law firm retained to perform an investigation into mismanagement or worse at USAGM.
Delegated authority is rare outside the intelligence community, according to the Federal News Network. When OPM actively blocked the agency from doing its own reviews in 2020 after years of warnings, a spokesperson said it was the first such action in more than 20 years.
The security issues were made worse by the USAGM’s heavy use of the J-1 visa program, which is intended primarily for au pairs, students, and other “exchange visitors,” to fill up journalist and technical openings. According to outgoing CEO Michael Peck, he told his inspector general that the agency was simply “rubber-stamping” applications and renewals when he got there in mid-2020.
A political appointee in the previous administration stressed to Just the News that career adjudicators recommended that the employees be dismissed, based on McGuireWoods reviews but also on the USAGM’s internal probes.
“If I was a spy, where would I target?” the appointee asked rhetorically: “Obviously this agency” because of its allegedly deficient background checks, which then provide ready access to many other federal agencies, thanks to reciprocity agreements regarding security clearances.
When he and his team arrived, Pack said they were “flooded with actual whistleblowers,” the Trump political appointee told the news outlet, who said that half of them were too worried about retribution to put their allegations in writing, and those who did have actually faced retaliation since the Biden administration came into power.
It’s mind-blowing how the fired senior officials “paint themselves as whistleblowers when they’re not,” the appointee told Just the News.
USAGM would not respond to specific findings in the McGuireWoods investigative summaries, Just the News noted.
Director of Public Affairs Laurie Moy, meanwhile, pointed to a 2021 review by the State Department Office of Inspector General that found the agency “has taken actions to address long-standing deficiencies identified by OPM and [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] with the personnel suitability and national security determination processes.”
The office also concluded “the individuals in question were wrongly targeted in retaliation for making protected disclosures, and as a result their security clearances were improperly suspended. Consistent with OIG’s finding, USAGM has reinstated the wrongly targeted individuals,” Moy noted in an email.
General counsel David Kligerman, who preemptively resigned, “resisted implementing the personnel security requirements” for a government-wide rule on determining “national security positions,” according to an investigative summary.
One security official had warned him before that “hostile foreign intelligence services have placed agents within [USAGM] to build credibility as a trusted federal employee” and apply for federal positions elsewhere that “deal with more sensitive matters.”
Instead, Kligerman applied for a waiver that “appears to have caused employees to receive background investigations at the wrong levels, and to have delayed the re-evaluation of grantees as well, raising concerns about foreign national personnel receiving higher clearance than may have been appropriate.”