Biden-Appointed Ambassador Threatened Staff And Spent Lavishly On Unnecessary Projects, Report Says

The U.S. ambassador to Singapore, an appointee of President Joe Biden, faced several criticisms over his leadership, intimidated his staff and spent tens of thousands of dollars on unnecessary projects, outstanding travel expenditures and consulting fees, according to a State Department Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report released in February.

Jonathan Kaplan was an entrepreneur prior to being tapped for the position of ambassador to Singapore in 2021 by the Biden administration. The OIG report raises concerns about Kaplan’s poor treatment of staff, lack of communication within the embassy and unnecessary or unauthorized expenditures.

“The Ambassador did not hold himself to the highest standards of conduct, performance, and ethics to model integrity,” the report reads. “[State] Department and embassy staff told OIG the Ambassador was dismissive of Department regulations and requirements and had a difficult time understanding the limits of working within the government.”

Kaplan failed to establish a constructive relationship within the elements of the embassy, in part due to the staff’s lack of trust in him over his poor relationship with the prior Deputy Chief of Mission, and their feelings that he did not take much interest in their work, according to the report. Staff felt there was a lack of productive feedback, and were fearful of engaging with him.

“Numerous staff described a fear, and even direct threats, of reprisal from the Ambassador,” the report reads. “They described his mannerisms with personnel as belittling and intimidating and said that he frequently spoke disparagingly about U.S. government employees and the Department.”

Staff also felt that Kaplan would prioritize his own ideas and projects rather than what best served U.S. foreign policies, according to the report. In one such instance, Kaplan asked staff to explore the idea of hosting an outdoor showing in Singapore of the 2022 Super Bowl, even despite the country’s COVID-19 restrictions at the time, the populous’ general lack of interest in American football and the costs associated with putting on the event; Kaplan blamed staff when they could not pull the event off.

In another instance in January 2023, Kaplan told staff to work in conjunction with the U.S. Navy to host a reception featuring a pianist, who happened to be his friend, on the USS Makin Island naval warship. The event was considered to be “successful” in raising awareness about U.S. support for Ukraine, but staff had limited time and resources to organize it, and it cost over $27,000 to get the piano onto the ship for Kaplan’s friend.

This action reduced “funding for other public diplomacy programs that might have more effectively advanced U.S. interests in Singapore,” according to the report.

“The Ambassador’s many projects frequently were unattainable, diverted the embassy’s limited resources, and detracted from the staff’s ability to perform core duties,” reads the report. “He instructed [staff] to pursue projects that appeared to them to reflect his personal priorities over broader foreign policy interests. These priorities included a search for a new chief of mission residence, his instructions to staff to obtain VIP treatment for him at popular cultural events, and the pursuit of the public Super Bowl event detailed above.”

Kaplan also tapped consulting services for the embassy that cost $9,900; this commitment was unauthorized by the StateDepartment, according to the report. He also “did not follow many of the Department’s travel and reimbursement policies and requirements” while conducting travel on official U.S. business, leading to roughly $48,000 in outstanding travel vouchers that either “were not submitted for reimbursement or lacked sufficient supporting documentation” to write them off.

The OIG made recommendations to the embassy on how to follow State Department guidelines in conducting operations in the future, which the embassy concurred with.

“I stand by the work of the State Department OIG. Their routine embassy inspections are congressionally mandated and are critically important to ensure all of our State Department operations and overseas missions are operating both efficiently and effectively,” Kaplan told the DCNF in a statement. “My team and I take full responsibility for quickly addressing the concerns and recommendations found in the report. It’s an honor to work alongside my career foreign service peers as I learn from their wisdom and guidance every day.”

Jake Smith on March 1, 2024

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