WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is blaming an exhaustive White House vetting process for the Obama administration's failure so far to name a person to run the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Six months into the administration's tenure without having appointed someone to the agency's top spot, Clinton told USAID employees on Monday that several people had turned down the job due to overly burdensome financial and personal disclosure requirements that she called a "nightmare," frustrating beyond words" and "ridiculous.""
She also said the White House had turned down her request to announce on Monday that someone - expected by officials to be physician and Harvard University professor Paul Farmer, who is known for his work in Haiti - would be named to the post soon.
"Let me just say it's not for lack of trying," Clinton said in response to an employee's question about the delay given her and President Barack Obama's stated desire to have USAID play a bigger role in American foreign policy. "We have worked very hard with the White House on looking for a candidate who, number one, wants the job."
The comment drew laughter from the audience, prompting her to say: "It's been offered." She then launched into a critique of the vetting process.
"The clearance and vetting process is a nightmare and it takes far longer than any of us would want to see," Clinton said. "It is frustrating beyond words. I pushed very hard last week when I knew I was coming here to get permission from the White House to be able to tell you that help is on the way and someone will be nominated shortly."
"I was unable," she said. "The message came back: 'We're not ready'."
Clinton said the vetting process for senior officials gets worse in each successive administration with the requirements demanding in some cases that candidates hire lawyers and accountants, detail everywhere they have lived since they were 18 and name every foreign citizen they know. "I mean, it is ridiculous," she said.
"Some very good people just didn't want to be vetted," she said.
USAID is in charge of America's foreign aid. Obama and Clinton have said its work will be essential to what they have called "smart power," a foreign policy strategy centred on defence, diplomacy and development.