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State Department Gets Report It Wants on Keystone XL Pipeline From Deputy IG Geisel

Harold Geisel

The Not-Quite Inspector General

Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel gives the State Department a clean bill of health over its handling of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline affair today [PDF]. The release of his report has inspired numerous “well, that’s that” articles, as well as a nod to its legitimacy by Bernie Sanders.

A few things remain to be said about the report, however. The first being that one of the most successful methods for shielding government agencies from true accountability has been to leave the Inspector General position vacant, and allowing someone without the Inspector General’s authority to run the show — particularly one that is cozy with the department. An acting IG never has the autonomy or job security of a true IG. They always know that if they do anything that rocks the boat, someone can quickly be brought in over them.

Such is the case with the State’s Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel. In 2010 the Project on Government oversight called on President Obama to remove Geisel because of his “inappropriately close relationship with agency management” after they uncovered an email between Geisel and Patrick F. Kennedy, State’s Undersecretary for management:

“This e-mail is profoundly troubling because Geisel appears to be informing management that he is on their side and that his office needs to conduct just enough oversight to placate Congress and prevent a legitimately aggressive and independent IG from taking his place,” Danielle Brian, executive director of POGO wrote in the letter.

Of the 12 agencies currently without permanent Inspector Generals, the Department of State has had the longest absence (1485 days, since 1/16/08). With pressure mounting on the Obama administration to appoint one, it would certainly be an inopportune time for Geisel to deliver a report that makes them unhappy.

And — he doesn’t.

Three Senators and eleven Representatives asked Geisel to investigate whether the State Department acted improperly by hiring TransCanada contractor Cardno Entrix to screen applicants to conduct the Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline mandated by federal law — and then cover it up.

Geisel’s findings in response to their questions were released today: [cont’d.]

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State Department Gets Report It Wants on Keystone XL Pipeline From Deputy IG Geisel

Harold Geisel

The Not-Quite Inspector General

Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel gives the State Department a clean bill of health over its handling of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline affair today [PDF].  The release of his report has inspired numerous “well, that’s that” articles, as well as a nod to its legitimacy by Bernie Sanders.

A few things remain to be said about the report, however.  The first being that one of the most successful methods for shielding government agencies from true accountability has been to leave the Inspector General position vacant, and allow someone without the Inspector General’s authority to run the show — particularly one that is cozy with the department. An acting IG never has the autonomy or job security of a true IG. They always know that if they do anything that rocks the boat, someone can quickly be brought in over them.

Such is the case with the State’s Deputy Inspector General  Harold Geisel. In 2010 the Project on Government oversight called on President Obama to remove Geisel because of his “inappropriately close relationship with agency management” after they uncovered an email between Geisel and Patrick F. Kennedy, State’s Undersecretary for management:

“This e-mail is profoundly troubling because Geisel appears to be informing management that he is on their side and that his office needs to conduct just enough oversight to placate Congress and prevent a legitimately aggressive and independent IG from taking his place,” Danielle Brian, executive director of POGO wrote in the letter.

Of  the 12 agencies currently without permanent Inspector Generals, the Department of State has had the longest absence (1485 days, since 1/16/08). With pressure mounting on the Obama administration to appoint one, it would certainly be an inopportune time for Geisel to deliver a report that makes them unhappy.

And — he doesn’t.

Three Senators and eleven Representatives asked Geisel to investigate whether the State Department acted improperly by hiring TransCanada contractor Cardno Entrix to screen applicants to conduct the Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline mandated by federal law — and then cover it up.

Geisel’s findings in response to their questions were released today:

(1) To what extent and in what manner did TransCanada improperly influence the Department in the selection of a contractor for the EIS? 

Geisel response:  OIG found no evidence that TransCanada (the applicant) had improperly influenced the Department’s selection of Cardno Entrix as the Keystone XL EIS third-party contractor.

(2) To what extent did the Department’s final EIS fully incorporate the views and concerns of Federal agencies with expertise, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, in relation to alternatives and mitigation, pipeline safety, and environmental risks?

Geisel’s response:  Some concerns “were not completely incorporated” due to “the Department’s limited technical resources, expertise, and experience impacted the implementation of the NEPA process.”

(3) To what extent is there a contractual or financial relationship between Cardno Entrix and TransCanada beyond Keystone XL, and does Cardno Entrix have a contract or agreement with TransCanada wherein Cardno Entrix would provide services, such as spill response, for Keystone XL?

Geisel’s response:  Although Cardno Entrix has worked on two TransCanada contracts, “OIG determined that these relationships did not present a conflict of interest because they are not directly related to the Keystone XL project and are either federally controlled relationships or minimal financial relationships that would not ‘impair the contractor’s objectivity in performing the contract work’ or ‘result in an unfair competitive advantage to a contractor.'”

Furthermore, did the Department employees who selected Cardno Entrix have personal financial conflicts of interest?

Geisel’s response:  “A preliminary inquiry determined that there were no personal financial conflicts of interest of those Department employees who were personally and substantially involved.”

(4) To what extent did the Department violate its role as an unbiased oversight agency by advising TransCanada to withdraw their permit request to operate the pipeline at higher pressures with the reassurance that TransCanada could apply for the permit at a later date through a less scrutinized and less transparent process?

Geisel’s response: OIG determined that the Department did not violate its role as an unbiased oversight agency.

(5) To what extent did communication between Department officials, TransCanada, the Canadian Government, or proponents of Keystone XL deviate from the Department’s obligations under Federal law to provide an objective analysis of the project and its potential risks?

Geisel’s response: OIG found no evidence that communications between Department officials, TransCanada, the Canadian Government, proponents, and opponents of Keystone XL deviated from the Department’s obligations under Federal law.

(6) To what extent did the Department and all parties fully comply with the letter and spirit of all Federal disclosure laws and regulations in regard to Keystone XL?

Geisel’s response:  OIG determined that the Department fully complied with the general disclosure requirements applicable to the Presidential permit and EIS processes.

(7) To what extent were Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for materials related to Keystone XL timely fulfilled by the Department?

Geisel’s response: Although the Department hasn’t actually fulfilled important FOIA requests related to Keystone XL,OIG found that the Department has been consistent with its established processes in processing Keystone XL requests, given the complexity and volume of the records involved.”

Things that Geisel’s report doesn’t address:

  • No mention of the redacted materials regarding the Keytsone XL Pipeline sought by Friend of the Earth under the Freedom of Information Act.
  • No mention of whether the State Department’s invocation of Exemption 5 —   “a broadly interpreted exemption that covers all manner of documents and communications that fall under attorney-client or executive privilege” — was an appropriate reason to deny the FOIA requests.
  • No mention of Paul Elliott, the TransCanada lobbyist and a former staff member of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, or his exchanges with State Department officials regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline.
  • No mention of the fact that as an established TransCanada contractor, Cardno Entrix could reasonably assume that it had more to gain if the pipeline project was approved than if it wasn’t, and that any species more evolved than a cockroach would see this as a “conflict of interest.”

In short, TransCanada could’ve written it themselves.

Not having access to the underlying materials that Geisel did, it’s impossible to know if his findings are valid or not.  Perhaps they are.  If so, it’s unfortunate that they were released under the shadow of his “deputy” status, and that he did not address any details of the major concerns raised in the Congressional request other than to wave his hand and say “nothing to see here, move along.”

Because if a Deputy IG was anxious to please an administration by giving State a clean bill of health in exchange for a permanent appointment, there would not be one word of difference.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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