WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley is ramping up his inquiry into whether the State Department misused the Special Government Employee (SGE) designation for outside expertise in light of revelations of private email use at the State Department. Grassley reiterated his unanswered request from 2013 that the State Department provide all communications between the State Department and an outside firm, Teneo. A top State Department employee, Huma Abedin, worked both for the government and Teneo at the same time and reportedly had a private email account on an email server in the Secretary’s personal residence.
“A number of conflict of interest concerns arise when a government employee is simultaneously being paid by a private company, especially when that company, Teneo, ‘brings together the disciplines of government and public affairs,’ ” Grassley wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry. “Moreover, these concerns are heightened when high level employees, such as Ms. Abedin, may have used non-government email accounts to engage in both government and private business. Furthermore, Ms. Abedin and other State Department employees appear to have been improperly categorized as SGEs.”
Grassley made a new request of the agency inspector general. He also expressed concern that the private email use could impede State Department fulfillment of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. FOIA is in the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee, which he chairs.
“The Senate Judiciary Committee, which has direct legislative jurisdiction over FOIA, needs to have a clear understanding of the effects that these email practices at the State Department have had on FOIA compliance,” Grassley wrote to State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. “Additionally, it is important to understand whether the State Department’s excessive use of the SGE designation undermines standards of ethics.”
Grassley’s letters ask a series of detailed questions about the SGE designation and the use of private email to conduct State Department business.
Grassley’s letter to Kerry is available here. Grassley’s letter to Linick is available here.