WASHINGTON — A State Department project manager banished from Iraq by the U.S. ambassador and under scrutiny by the Justice Department continues to oversee the construction of the much-delayed new American embassy in Baghdad from nearby Kuwait, State Department officials disclosed Thursday.
James L. Golden, a contract employee, is still managing the $740 million project, said Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, the department's top management official.
"Mr. Golden is still . . . our project manager, and still is working with the contractor, at their base in Kuwait," Kennedy said.
One State Department official with detailed knowledge of the unopened embassy expressed outrage that his superiors haven't replaced Golden.
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"I find it absolutely amazing that State senior management doesn't seem to think it a trifle odd that two people under investigation . . . are still making all the management decisions under this same contract," the official said in an e-mail. The official asked for anonymity because he feared retaliation by his superiors.
Golden and the Baghdad-based embassy construction coordinator, Mary French, have been implicated in a Justice Department criminal investigation into how embassy construction subcontracts were issued, according to current and former U.S. officials and congressional testimony.
Neither Golden nor French has been charged with any wrongdoing.
Construction and safety problems have plagued the Baghdad embassy, originally scheduled to open in September. Kennedy and other top department officials have declined to provide a firm date for when it will be ready to house nearly 1,000 U.S. diplomats and staff.
Kuwaiti-based First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co. is constructing the embassy, which will be the largest American embassy in the world once it's completed.
Department officials defended the decision to leave Golden in place, saying it was necessary to provide continuity on the project. The department is working to overcome construction flaws that range from questions about the strength of blast walls to a fire-suppression system that failed inspection.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker banished Golden from Iraq after an incident last May in which a mortar round damaged a wall at the new embassy that was supposed to be blast resistant. Golden, along with First Kuwaiti, attempted to repair the damage before an investigation could be conducted, U.S. officials said.
Attempts to reach Golden for comment for this article were unsuccessful.
McClatchy first reported the criminal investigation into the embassy's construction in mid-October.
New details were made public a month later during a congressional hearing, in which it became known that the State Department's inspector general, Howard Krongard, had met personally with Golden and French despite warnings from his staff that such a personal meeting would "taint the investigation," according to a congressional report.
The two embassy project managers weren't mentioned by name in the report by majority Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Golden was referred to as a "person of interest" in the Justice investigation, and French as a "subject of investigation."
But Krongard divulged their names publicly. "I would like to tell you what exactly I was doing, both with Mr. Golden and Ms. French," he told the committee.
According to the committee's report, Golden hasn't returned to the United States or made himself available for a follow-up interview since the August meeting with Krongard. Krongard has since recused himself, at Justice's request, from the embassy investigation.
Many details of the probe remain under wraps.
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McClatchy's original report on the investigation into construction and safety problems at the new U.S. embassy in Iraq.