Trump can't be bothered to fill hundreds of jobs at the State Department, and it's causing chaos.
A new report out from the State Department's Inspector General shows that Trump's failure to adequately staff up that agency has led to sloppy auditing of contractor expenses in Middle Eastern war zones.
In other words, contractors could be ripping America off because Trump doesn't know how to run a government.
The Inspector General's report looked at whether some of the State Department's bureaus, including the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) bureau, were properly reviewing and paying invoices. They weren't, and it's all thanks to a lack of staff.
Before paying a contractor invoice, bureaus are supposed to review 100 percent of invoiced items, which is exactly what you'd expect. But since they didn't have enough people to do the work, bureaus in Iraq and Afghanistan resorted to just reviewing a sample of invoice items and then paying the total invoice anyway. This led to the government paying contractor invoices with "questioned costs."
This may seem relatively trivial, but it isn't. These are contracts worth billions of dollars, including medical support in Iraq and life support services in Afghanistan. The U.S. government is paying private companies for services under those contracts, but doesn't care enough actually to monitor the payment process.
When Trump took office, his then-Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, imposed an arbitrary and unnecessary department-wide hiring freeze at the State Department, lasting from January 2017 to May 2018. The freeze was theoretically because Tillerson, who had no experience in government whatsoever, was going to "redesign" the department. Meanwhile, over 400 employees left State in the first nine months of 2017.
Current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lifted the freeze in May 2018 as part of an effort to, as he put it, bring "swagger" back to the department.
It didn't work. Instead, State remains horribly understaffed — and that's what led to certain bureaus essentially just waving contractor invoices through rather than carefully reviewing them.
Overpaying contractors is small potatoes compared to the other problem of understaffing at State, which is that there are hundreds of empty State posts worldwide. That's a genuine security risk. We aren't able to fully engage with work on things like nuclear nonproliferation, and there are so many vacant security officer jobs that staff has less time to spend identifying and responding to security threats.
Trump doesn't much like the actual business of governing. Ensuring that agencies have enough mid-level employees is dull, lacking the ostentatious flair of, say, going nuclear over judicial nominees.
Meanwhile, current State employees face increased workloads and increased security risks.
This is what happens when you elect someone who just doesn't care if the government works or not.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.