By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Howard J. Krongard, the State Department's embattled inspector general, announced yesterday that he is stepping down next month, ending a turbulent tenure in which he came under fire from employees and lawmakers and was accused of impeding key Iraq-related investigations.
Krongard, who took the inspector general's job in 2005 after serving as counsel to several accounting and law firms, ran afoul of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in recent months over his stewardship of key investigations. He also came under criticism from State Department employees who chafed under what they described as his abrasive management style.
Current and former department officials have charged that Krongard blocked them from pursuing allegations of contract fraud and mismanagement in the construction of the $736 million U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, as well as alleged arms smuggling by Blackwater Worldwide, which has a State Department contract to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq.
In a letter informing President Bush of his decision, Krongard said he would stay until Jan. 15 to complete a project he called his "impossible dream," the establishment of a Middle East branch of the inspector general's office, in Amman, Jordan.
In a statement, Oversight Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) essentially bade Krongard good riddance.
"Mr. Krongard's decision removes an enormous distraction from the Inspector General's office and will allow the office to focus on its important oversight responsibilities," he said. "The committee will certainly take this new development into account."
Krongard recused himself last month from the embassy and Blackwater investigations after Waxman's committee confronted him with evidence of conflicts of interest, including his brother's role as a strategic adviser to Blackwater.
In a hearing before the oversight panel, Krongard denied that he had impeded any investigations or taken any actions based on a partisan political agenda.
He also dismissed as "ugly rumors" lawmakers' assertions that his brother, Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, was an advisory board member for Blackwater Worldwide. But he later retracted the statement after a telephone call to his brother, from whom he is estranged, during a recess.
With his impending departure, Krongard becomes the second high-level State Department official to leave amid growing criticism on Capitol Hill of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's management. Richard J. Griffin was forced to resign as assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security in late October after a critical internal review found he had failed to adequately supervise private contractors protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq. The department came under sharp criticism from Congress, the U.S. military and the Iraqi government after Blackwater security personnel killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad on Sept. 16.
Krongard also said he was leaving "with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment at having promoted efficiency, accountability and positive change." But he also expressed doubts about "inherent structural and conceptual defects in the inspector general position," and he aimed a parting shot at his critics.
"Of even greater concern to me is the grave threat to public service posed by the current rancor and distrust between and among the political parties, the legislative and executive branches of government, the media and various interest groups," he wrote.
In a message e-mailed yesterday to colleagues in the inspector general's office, Krongard defended some of his controversial decisions and recalled a May 2007 memo he wrote, parts of which he said remain relevant. In it, he urged employees to "reduce the static" that interferes with office harmony and to stop "spending energy in rivalries . . . or in rumoring, backbiting and complaining."
He also expressed pride in his creation of the Howard J. Krongard Scholars in the Nation's Service program at Princeton University this year.
Staff writer Glenn Kessler contributed to this report.