Few know of the small federal agency within the Treasury Department that navigates the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). They don't make a lot of news and they quietly go about their work. Except, in President Donald Trump's America, that has changed.
The United States is steps from blowing up the Iran nuclear deal, North Korea is one step from progress or one step from nuclear war and sanctions have been reimposed to Russia. Yet, the OFAC is shorthanded, the Daily Beast cites more than a dozen congressional aides, attorneys and former employees. To make matters worse, Friday, the agency's director left after three years in the position.
While the budget has thrown money at the agency, to the tune of $25 million in the 2018 and $17 million for 2019, some are fearful it won't be enough to tackle the problem stacking up.
“This is a small agency with an enormous and politically significant mission that is surprisingly underfunded given how important its work is, and given how readily U.S. policymakers reach for sanctions as a tool for foreign policy,” former senior Treasury advisor Liz Rosenberg told the Daily Beast. “The last three administrations have all focused on sanctions as a national security tool, but this one has really doubled down.”
According to the report, sanctions aren't exactly a multiple choice pop-quiz, these complex political issues involve liaising with the State Department, the intelligence community and officials at Treasury and the White House. It is frequently called the "nerve center" of the sanctions operation. Right now it's also the agency with the "most significant capacity changes," one former staffer called it.
It requires a person with understanding of the sanctions enforcement process but also people who can translate for talks and documents. Few staffers even speak Russian or Chinese. To make matters worse, the 200 civil service employees in the agency are under-funded and over-worked. It's something lawmakers have expressed concern about but have done little to rectify.
One congressional aide said that staff from the office are often shifted from dealing with one issue to dealing with another, leaving no consistency with outside staff.
It was only recently that the Treasury Department asked for additional funding for the cash-strapped agency. Over the years, they have been frugal and only requested modest, if any, increases for their budget.
“There’s a real challenge of having enough focus and dedication and resourcing to the North Korean sanctions in general,” the congressional aide said. The staffer also noted that lawmakers have asked Treasury to send funding requests in the past.
A mere three staffers at the OFAC have been involved with the North Korea sanction enforcement, said prominent sanctions attorney Erich Ferrari.
“There’s not enough people to do the job, or to fulfill the mandate of OFAC to begin with,” Ferrari said, noting that the agency rarely has the staffing resources to deal properly with litigation and other challenges to sanctions designations.
Read the full report at the Daily Beast.