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State Department hires company to prep officials for congressional grillings

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March 9, 2009: This photo shows State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. (AP)

The State Department has reportedly approved a contract worth up to $545,000 to help train department officials to effectively testify at congressional hearings after a series of poor performances.

The Washington Times reports that the department has hired a company called AMTIS, Inc. to train staffers to effectively speak with lawmakers and testify at congressional hearings.

According to the Washington Times, the contract included classes, such as “Communicating with Congress: Briefing and Testifying,” which will be taught by instructors with Capitol Hill experience.

It also includes individual sessions, which include mock hearings where officials can testify in front of a panel of experts, who will then critique them on their performance.

According to its website, AMTIC, Inc. provides “federal and state agencies with innovative, high-quality, and affordable products and services while continuing to serve our nation.”

A spokeswoman for the Citizens Against Government Waste told the Washington Times the training shouldn’t be necessary, because all the officials need to do is testify “truthfully, honestly and thoroughly.”

“It’s not ‘The Charlie Rose Show’; it’s not ‘The View,’” Leslie Paige told the Washington Times. “It is congressional testimony. So just cough up the facts, because that’s all we really need from you.”

The reported contract followed a series of embarrassments for the department at congressional hearings.

Earlier this year, the White House faced harsh criticism about a handful of President Obama's ambassador nominees who have scant knowledge or expertise about the nations where they would serve, amid heightened scrutiny of the time-honored presidential practice of selecting political donors and friends for these high-profile posts.

Several of Obama's recent ambassadorial nominees were high-dollar campaign fundraisers and donors for the president, raising concerns they were rewarded for their lucrative political support. At least three nominees raised concerns after poor performances in their confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

During the confirmation hearing of Obama's nominee to Argentina, Noah Bryson Mamet, the nominee admitted he'd never been to the South American country. The nominee to Norway, George Tsunis, also flubbed some key facts about the Scandinavian nation at his confirmation hearing. Colleen Bradley Bell, a soap opera producer nominated for ambassador to Hungary, also recently struggled to answer what America's strategic interests are in that country.

The performances prompted the union representing America's Foreign Service professionals to threaten to sue the State Department for information on the qualifications of recent ambassadorial nominees.

Click for more from the Washington Times.

The Associated Press contributed to this report