Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Royce Pushes to Strengthen Accountability Review Board (ARB) Investigations

May 9, 2013

 Legislation Follows Flawed ARB Investigation on Benghazi Attacks

 Washington, D.C. – Today, one day after the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing highlighted the Accountability Review Board’s flawed accounting of the Benghazi terrorist attacks, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, encouraged his House colleagues to co-sponsor the legislation he has introduced to restructure the investigative body’s process, increasing its independence from the Secretary of State.

Information on H.R. 1768 (The Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013) is available HERE

The “Dear Colleague” letter Chairman Royce sent to other Members follows: 

Strengthen Investigations into Breaches in Embassy Security

State Department’s Benghazi Review Was Flawed

 “[I]t is not what is contained within the [ARB’s] report that I take exception to but what is left unexamined.  Specifically, I’m concerned with the ARB’s decision to focus its attention at the Assistant Secretary level and below.”

     – Testimony of Eric Nordstrom, former lead security officer in Libya -- May 8, 2013

May 9, 2013

Dear Colleague:

Last year in Benghazi, we lost four brave Americans at the hands of terrorists.  By law, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was required to convene a temporary, investigative panel known as an Accountability Review Board (ARB) to study these deadly attacks, and to make recommendations to prevent similar attacks in the future.  These are key “lessons learned” reports.   

Yesterday, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing that reaffirmed the flaws in the Benghazi ARB’s review.  Specifically, the ARB found that the responsibility for the “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” within the State Department stopped at the Assistant Secretary level.  As we heard throughout the hearing, this was simply not the case.

In his written testimony, former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya Gregory Hicks called the ARB “incomplete” and stressed that it “let people off the hook.” Similarly, Eric Nordstrom, the former lead security officer in Libya, expressly rejected the ARB’s placement of responsibility at or below the level of Assistant Secretary, noting that he personally reviewed documents related to staffing and security that were “drafted and approved at the Under Secretary of Management level or above.”

To avoid future flawed reports, I have introduced legislation to restructure the Accountability Review Board process, increasing its independence from the Secretary of State.  HR 1768 (Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013) does the following:

Increases the ARB’s independence from the State Department. Currently, the Secretary of State appoints four out of the ARB’s five members – a clear majority that could influence the outcome of any investigation.  This bill requires the Chairperson of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity & Efficiency (the chief U.S. Inspector General) to appoint two of the ARB’s five members, thus limiting the Secretary’s appointments to a minority of two ARB members.

Improves ARB staffing.  Currently, the ARB relies on State Department employees to assist it with its investigation.  State employees could be investigating friends, coworkers, or even themselves. Under this bill, Board staff will shift to the Department’s Office of Inspector General.

Bans would-be Board members and staff who have a “conflict of interest”– a personal or professional relationship with someone they can be expected to investigate.

Requires the Secretary to name for Congress the senior employees that staff the ARB.The Committee has been frustrated in its attempts to obtain documents from the State Department related to Benghazi, and other information about the ARB process.  Current law only requires the Secretary to disclose the names of the ARB’s members – not its staff, who are more likely to be aware of relevant information and where it is stored.  This bill improves oversight by allowing Congress to know if any senior State employees are assisting the Board with its investigation, and if so, who they are.

Requires the ARB report to be provided to Congress.Current law requires only that the ARB’s final report go to the Secretary of State. This bill requires that it is also presented to Congress.

These improvements seek to strengthen future ARB investigations to help avoid disasters like Benghazi.  Please join me in co-sponsoring this legislation. 

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