Royce Uses Benghazi Hearings to Rally Colleague Support for ARB Reform

A day after the Oversight Committee's whistleblower hearings on Benghazi raised new disturbing questions about the State Department's review of the terror attack, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman is trying to rally colleagues' support to reform the Accountability Review Board process.

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convened the ARB to delve into the Sept. 11 attack, appointing four of the panel’s five members while the director of national intelligence named the final member from the intelligence community.

The ARB “examined the terrorist attacks in Benghazi with an eye towards how we can better advance American interests and protect our personnel in an increasingly complex and dangerous world,” according to the final report of the board led by former UN Ambassador Thomas Pickering. That report found there were no protests the night of the attack, that intelligence services had no warning of the attack, and that “communication, cooperation, and coordination among Washington, Tripoli, and Benghazi functioned collegially at the working – level but were constrained by a lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels.”

“The Board determined that U.S. personnel on the ground in Benghazi performed with courage and readiness to risk their lives to protect their colleagues, in a near impossible situation,” states the report. “The Board members believe every possible effort was made to rescue and recover Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith. The interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) today introduced the Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013 to increase the independence and transparency of future ARBs. Under the bill, the secretary of State would appoint only two members of the board with the chair of the Council of Inspectors General of Integrity and Efficiency appointing two members, and the director of national intelligence appointing the fifth member.

Currently, an ARB uses State Department staff to assist with the investigation of other State Department employees. Under this bill, ARB staff would come from the Office of Inspector General.

Only the names of those five board members are currently required to be disclosed, but the bill would require that all senior State Department officials taking part in compiling the review would also be named. And whereas the report now goes directly to the secretary of State, Royce’s legislation would also require delivery to Congress.

Royce today circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter to rally for co-sponsors, citing the testimony of Eric Nordstrom, former lead security officer in Libya.

“[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," Nordstrom said before the Oversight Committee.

"Yesterday, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing that reaffirmed the flaws in the Benghazi ARB’s review," Royce wrote in the letter. "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."

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