House Republicans on Wednesday criticized a ranking State Department official for the failure to hold other top agency officials accountable for security lapses at the Benghazi mission, where four Americans were killed last year.
“Let’s look at how the department’s review process has played out,” said California Republican Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Accountability Review Board “failed to interview the secretary of State and improbably capped responsibility at the assistant secretary level.”
Royce’s criticism of Patrick F. Kennedy, the department’s undersecretary for management, came during the committee's fourth hearing on Benghazi. Members continue to probe whether pre-attack requests for extra security were met, whether more could have been done to respond to the scene of the attack on Sept. 11, and why the internal review board didn't hold higher-ranking officials responsible.
Kennedy on Wednesday defended the State Department's actions over the course of the three-hour grilling, including the decision to place four agency officials on temporary, administrative leave, before re-assigning them. Kennedy claimed the shuffling of positions was tantamount to accountability.
“I submit respectfully, Mr. Chairman, that accountability includes being relieved from your job and assigned to other positions,” Kennedy said. “To me, that is serious accountability.”
One of the officials has since resigned, and the others have been reinstated. However, their new positions carry “lesser responsibility,” Kennedy said.
“Nobody missed a paycheck,” Royce countered. “Reassignment just doesn’t cut it in terms of addressing that issue.”
Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the agency continues to “merely shuffle the deck chairs,” by reassigning officials, not firing them.
Hillary Clinton, the secretary of State at the time, has publicly taken responsibility for the attacks.
The hearing also marked the first of three this week on Benghazi.
A House Armed Services Committee panel will hold a hearing Thursday on the issue. And the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also is holding a hearing Thursday that is scheduled to include Thomas R. Pickering, the retired diplomat who helped lead the department's internal audit.
The audit found the department failed to plan and coordinate sufficient security and recommended that two of the four employees leave their jobs.
However, critics say the report failed to go far enough, or high enough, in assessing blame.
Kennedy also denied claims the department ignored security requests, saying the complex asked for and received additional lighting, concrete barriers and a drop arm to keep vehicles from entering.
Still, Kennedy said, being a foreign diplomat is an inherently dangerous job and that every attack in a foreign land cannot be thwarted.
“We will not … stop terrorists or extremists from mounting an attack against us in all cases,” he said.