Management

Congressmen raise concerns over employee retaliation at State Department

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Aug. 16 that he was promoting Director of Policy Planning Brian Hook to become the special representative for Iran and lead an Iran Action Group to coordinate the State Department’s relations with the country.

But some members of Congress took issue with the promotion, noting in an Aug. 22 letter to the secretary that internal agency documents indicated that Hook had politically retaliated against career State Department employees.

Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., wrote that Hook had engaged in “significant acts of political retaliation” that left the congressmen concerned with the new appointment.

According to the letter, internal documents showed that career State employee Sahar Nowrouzzadeh requested help from Hook after being targeted by conservative news outlets. The documents then showed that Hook questioned Nowrouzzadeh’s loyalty to President Donald Trump, and her assignment to the Policy Planning Office was cut short by three months.

In another instance, according to the letter, Hook and National Security Council official Derek Harvey drafted a list that characterized career State employees in terms such as “leaker,” “troublemaker” and “turncoat.”

The congressmen had previously written to the State Department in March 2018 expressing concerns over Hooks but received no documents or interview availability from State officials.

According to the letter, subsequent requests for information about other individuals accused of retaliation against career employees received no response.

“Given your decision to promote Mr. Hook and to disregard requests from Congress about his abuses, we request an immediate briefing about the measures the State Department has taken to investigate and stop retaliation against career State Department officials, as well as measures the State Department has taken in response to Mr. Hook’s reported role in engaging in prohibited personnel practices,” the congressmen wrote in the August letter.

At a May 2018 hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Pompeo testified that he did not believe officials who target career government employees should be working at the State Department.

But at the announcement of the Iran Action Group, Pompeo said that “Brian’s diplomatic expertise and broad experience with Iran policy makes him an outstanding choice to lead the State Department’s Iran Action Group.”

According to a State Department spokesperson, the agency is currently trying to make sure that they do not get in the way of two investigations into the matter:

“Following the initial Congressional inquiries, this matter was referred to two independent entities for review: the State Department Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel. The Department will fully cooperate with these investigations. While we have received inquiries from members of Congress pressing us to take steps that could politicize the independent investigations that are underway, we have consistently informed Congress that we cannot take any steps that might impede investigators’ work.”

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