August 08, 2016
Former FDA Employee Pleads Guilty to Gathering "Political Intelligence"
Former FDA employee, Gordon Johnston, pleads guilty to using his connections after retirement to gather confidential "political intelligence" for a hedge fund. This implicates ethics rules because a former government employee induced a current government employee to disclose nonpublic information.
"Political intelligence" was the subject of one of the provisions of the STOCK Act. Section 7 of the STOCK Act required the GAO to prepare a report addressing six questions about political intelligence activities. That report is available at http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/653532.pdf, but the opening summary suggests that GAO found Congress's questions virtually impossible to investigate. That said, the STOCK Act's definition of "political intelligence" – information derived from direct communications with a government employee and provided, in exchange for compensation, to a client who intends to use the information for investment purposes – seems to be exactly what happened in the case discussed above.
March 02, 2012
POGO: Don't Cut Watchdog Budgets
Budget Cutting is in the air, no doubt, but POGO argues that where you cut matters a great deal:
As Congress reviews the Administration’s request, it should keep in mind that OSC—like the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Offices of Inspectors General (OIGs)—provides a substantial return on taxpayers’ investment :
Four cases alone in just the past few years restored well over $11 million to the government. This amount, while substantial, grossly understates the financial benefit OSC brings to the government.
The real measure of OSC’s financial contribution is prophylactic: By providing a safe channel for whistleblower disclosures, OSC regularly reins in waste, fraud, abuse, illegality, and threats to public health and safety that pose the very real risk of catastrophic harm to the public, and huge remedial and liability costs for the government.
December 15, 2011
GAO sustain protest against Army (PGE conflict?)
GAO sustained VSE Corporation protest on Army's termination of a contract awarded. The Army terminated the contract based on the contracting officer's (CO) finding that the award was tainted by the protester's hiring of a former government employee as a consultant and that individual's participation in the preparation of the protester's proposal created at least an appearance of impropriety. VSE contends that the CO's determination was unreasonable because it was based on assumptions and not facts.
B-404833.4, VSE Corporation (see http://www.gao.gov/products/B-404833.4)
October 20, 2011
GAO Criticizes Federal Reserve Conflicts of Interest
A new GAO report exposes financial links between directors of Federal Reserve banks and financial institutitons that the Federal Reserve supervisess. POGO and the Washington Post have commentary on this significant report.
September 30, 2011
GAO: IGs Have Very High Return on Investment
POGO discusses a new Government Accountability Office report on Inspectors General:
The federal government's 62 Inspectors General (IGs) are putting your tax dollars to good use, returning about $18 for every dollar investment, according to a new report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
As part of the Dodd-Frank Act--legislation enacted in response to the 2008 financial meltdown--Congress required the GAO to report on the relative independence and efficiency of federal IGs. The result is a report released last week which shows that IGs save taxpayers billions of dollars, and provides hard evidence that the Dodd-Frank Act has increased their independence.
In the 2009 fiscal year, the IGs had an allotted budget of about $2.3 billion, but reported potential savings of about $43.3 billion. The IGs were also responsible for 5,900 actions against criminals, 1,100 civil actions, 4,460 suspensions and debarments and 6,100 indictments as a result of their work, according to the report.
August 01, 2011
In Wake of Scandal, Florida County Expands Reach of Ethics Rules
An article in the Sun-Sentinel describes how voters and elected officials reacted to the ethical scandal that forced Palm Beach County Commissioner Jeff Koons to resign from his post amidst allegations of misuse of office. Because Koons was the fourth county commissioner to be ousted, voters approved countywide ethics reform, expanding the ethics code to all 38 cities, towns and villages in Palm Beach County. Koons was prosecuted for his crimes (including extortion) by the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office, showing that the county and state are beginning to take these missteps much more seriously than in the past. Finally, the case brought the Government in the Sunshine Law to the forefront, causing local officials to request an exemption from the law's requirements.
July 05, 2011
Save Money on Official Travel
Wayne Johnson was kind enough to provide a few tips that should be very valuable for those attending the upcoming OGE Conference in Orlando in September and for other government travel situations as well:
Some federal ethics workers travel infrequently and thus may not be aware that some states, such as Florida, exempt federal employees on Temporary Duty (TDY) orders from paying sales/hotel taxes on their hotel rooms.
Travelers on TDY using their government issued “travel card” (or personal credit card if not issued a travel card) to pay their hotel accommodations pay state sales tax even though the federal government will be reimbursing the traveler later UNLESS under the local state’s law there is a tax exemption. This is because the sale is made to the person, not the government, who is personally responsible for paying the “travel card” bill. States do not have to offer this exemption to government travelers nor are hotels required to make the traveler aware of this.
The traveler’s government travel card should not be confused with the GSA SMART CARD IMPACT CREDIT CARD. Holders of the IMPACT card, usually the office’s procurement official, never pay state sales taxes when using the IMPACT card as those charges are billed directly to the U.S. Government and are thus not subject to state sales taxes as a matter of Federal law.
General Services Administration’s (GSA’s) web page provides more information, including links to all 50 states and explanations of their tax policies. GSA also provides information about Florida in particular. Information on Florida law in particular. Copies of the Florida hotel tax exemption form are available at the following websites:
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are those of Wayne Johnson and are not those of the U.S. Government. They were prepared in his personal capacity and are not to be construed to imply that his agency or the U.S. Government sanctions or endorses what he has written.
January 26, 2011
Congress Investigates Government Accountability Office
Government Executive reports on a Congressional probe of alleged improprieties in the GAO assessment of the "gainful employment" rule.
June 30, 2010
GAO Report on Burrowing In 2005-2009
The newest GAO report on "burrrowing in" (political appointee conversions to career positions) is available:
Personnel Practices: Conversions of Employees from Political to Career Positions May 2005-May 2009. GAO-10-688, June 28.
June 24, 2010
GAO On Legal Restrictions on Post-Employment Activites of Trade Officials
A new GAO report is available:
Former Federal Trade Officials: Laws on Post-Employment Activities, Foreign Representation, and Lobbying, GAO-10-766 (June 23, 2010).
June 13, 2010
GAO Report on Conference Sites
A new GAO report provides an additional perspective on the OGE conference material provided recently: Selected Federal Agencies' Policies for Choosing Conference Locations. GAO-10-677R, June 10. Here's an excerpt from the introduction:
Press accounts in 2009 indicated that some federal agencies had issued directives to their staff discouraging them from choosing certain locations for conferences. This was because of the perception by some that the locations were resort areas and would not be the best use of taxpayers’ money. Noting that government travel for meetings, conferences, and seminars is an important source of economic activity for many communities throughout the United States, you asked us to review agencies’ policies for selecting conference locations, in view of these concerns. This report transmits the results of our work."
June 07, 2010
OGE Guide on Conferences (May 2010)
The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) recently compiled the first edition of a reference guide on conferences. The guide includes information on not only Government ethics implications, but also fiscal, procurement, and other legal issues that often arise when Federal personnel are involved in conferences. OGE collaborated with several other entities in creating this guide, they include but are not limited to GAO, GSA, DoD, EPA, and HHS.
Please note this is ONLY meant as a reference guide to help you begin to understand the legal aspects of conferences. It should not be referenced as an authoritative document, but rather users should cite the the primary sources of the information cited in the guide.
Remember this is a working document. If you have comments, or suggestions, or wish to add your agency's perspective, please do so at www.contactoge.gov.
June 04, 2010
IEC Presentation Materials - CONFERENCES (June 2010)
As promised at the June IEC meeting, here are the materials from the recent presentation on Conferences.
GSA power point presentation:
Army power point presentation: Download Army presentation on Conference (June 10)
OLC opinion re Anti-Deficiency Act violation http://www.justice.gov/olc/2007/epa-light-refreshments13.pdf
· B-306663 - Contractors Collecting Fees at Agency-Hosted Conferences (Jan. 4, 2006) Download B-306663 (NIH) - Contractors Collecting Fees at Agency-Hosted Conferences
· B-300826 - NIH - Food at Government-Sponsored Conferences (Mar. 3, 2005) Download B-300826 (National Institutes of Health) - Food at Government-Sponsored Conferences
March 26, 2010
Use of Appropriated Funds to Pay for Refreshments?
March 15, 2010
GAO Appropriations Law Forumactors to be considered in determining propriety of using appropriated funds to pay fees for airport "registered traveler" programs.
November 29, 2009
GAO Looks at Conflict of Interest Issue
Reading the protest, it seems that any investigation should ask whether [the government official] was hired specifically to work on this proposal: a draft of the Request for Proposal (RFP) was issued in June, the [TRICARE Management Activity] employee started working for [Aetna Government Health Plans], on November 19, and the next day he started working on projects related to the proposal. "The former Chief of Staff was in fact a member of AGHP’s proposal preparation team," said the GAO. And he kept on accessing his TMA email account after he started working for AGHP.
[Emphasis in original].
November 25, 2009
FMS Training Video AvailableTo see an example of an ethics training video that was produced in-house without any special equipment (aside from a digital video camera) and without any special funding, watch the Financial Management Service's premiere episode of its ethics web series. The Financial Management Service (FMS) is a bureau of the Department of the Treasury. The FMS Ethics Attorney recruited employees to write, film, and act in a web series and an ethics orientation video. Employee response to these training products has been overwhelmingly positive.
The premiere episode of the web series is available for IEC members to view at the following page:
For more information about these training videos, please contact Jen Dickey, the FMS Ethics Attorney, at 202) 874-6680
August 05, 2009
GAO on Retired Military Officers as Media Analysts Controversy
The Government Accountability Office has issued an opinion on a fiscal law question related to the controversy over retired military officers acting as analysts for major news outlets. The opinion does not deal with standards of conduct issues, but it is of some interest to ethics officials. Here is the GAO summary:
The Government Accountability Office has issued an opinion on a fiscal law question related to the controversy over retired military officers acting as analysts for major news outlets. The opinion does not deal with standards of conduct issues, but it is of some interest to ethics officials. Here is the GAO summary:
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 mandated that GAO provide its opinion to Congress on whether the Department of Defense (DOD) violated the appropriations prohibition on publicity or propaganda in its 2002 through 2008 outreach to retired military officers (RMO) who served as media analysts. GAO concluded that the outreach program did not violate the publicity or propaganda prohibition. Although there is no doubt that DOD attempted to favorably influence public opinion with respect to DOD's war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan through RMOs with conference calls, meetings, travel and access to senior DOD officials, GAO found no evidence that DOD attempted to conceal its outreach from the public nor was there evidence that DOD contracted with or paid RMOs for positive commentary or analysis. The opinion does not address questions raised about the RMOs' commercial ties and potential competitive advantage or possible compromised DOD procurement processes because those questions, while legitimate, did not, in our view, implicate the publicity or propaganda prohibition and, thus, were outside the scope of the opinion. For similar reasons, this opinion does not examine whether the RMOS disclosed to the viewing public or the networks whether they had commercial ties to DOD contractors or other possible conflicts of interests. B-316443, Department of Defense--Retired Military Officers as Media Analysts, July 21, 2009.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 mandated that GAO provide its opinion to Congress on whether the Department of Defense (DOD) violated the appropriations prohibition on publicity or propaganda in its 2002 through 2008 outreach to retired military officers (RMO) who served as media analysts. GAO concluded that the outreach program did not violate the publicity or propaganda prohibition. Although there is no doubt that DOD attempted to favorably influence public opinion with respect to DOD's war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan through RMOs with conference calls, meetings, travel and access to senior DOD officials, GAO found no evidence that DOD attempted to conceal its outreach from the public nor was there evidence that DOD contracted with or paid RMOs for positive commentary or analysis.
The opinion does not address questions raised about the RMOs' commercial ties and potential competitive advantage or possible compromised DOD procurement processes because those questions, while legitimate, did not, in our view, implicate the publicity or propaganda prohibition and, thus, were outside the scope of the opinion. For similar reasons, this opinion does not examine whether the RMOS disclosed to the viewing public or the networks whether they had commercial ties to DOD contractors or other possible conflicts of interests.
B-316443, Department of Defense--Retired Military Officers as Media Analysts, July 21, 2009.
June 30, 2008
Accessing OGE Mailing List Archives
The size of OGE's OGE-ETHICSINFO-L mailing list (2700+ subscribers) demonstrates that there is widespread understanding of the value of this key resource. For those not already enrolled, the OGE web site has directions for subscribing.
Many subscribers may not know of a subsidiary benefit: Access to the mailing list's archives, via a search engine or selecting dates.
June 04, 2008
GAO Greenlights "No Cost" Contracts
A GAO opinion allows federal agencies to use so-called "no-cost" contracts. Under a no-cost contract, a vendor provides services to the government, in exchange for fees collected from third parties. For example, a vendor might organize a conference that benefitted the government, but be compensated only by attendee registration, not payments from the government. A 2005 GAO opinion had cast doubt on the legality of such arrangements. The newer opinion allows them under some circumstances, but warns:
Agency officials ... should consider possible conflicts of interest before signing a no-cost contract, keeping in mind that control of the agenda, selection of speakers and other matters concerning content should serve the government's, not the contractor's, purpose. Ultimately, an agency must not lose sight of its objectives for a particular event and should ensure that in avoiding costs to the agency, it does not take actions that compromise the effectiveness of its conference, undermine the achievement of agency goals, or violate ethics rules.
Updated June 5 to improve clarity.
April 10, 2008
Purchase Card Misuse
The GAO report on abuse of government purchase cards, discussed in a Washington Post story Wednesday and in Stephen Barr's Federal Diary today, is a public relations nightmare. Fortunately OMB Chief Clay Johnson put it into perspective:
"The vast majority of civilian employees, government employees, use the cards responsibly. At the same time, I would say there is abuse, and the goal is zero, and we need to make it zero."
March 21, 2008
GAO Report on Contractor Conflicts of Interest
Thanks to OGE for alerting us to a new Government Accountability Office report entitled Defense Contracting: Additional Personal Conflict of Interest Safeguards Needed for Certain DOD Contractor Employees (March 2008). Some of the concerns overlap with those expressed by OGE including, Report to the President and to Congressional Committees on the Conflict of Interest Laws Relating to Executive Branch Employment (January 2006).
January 14, 2008
New OMB Rules on Premium Air Travel
OMB has issued new guidance on federal traveler use of premium airline services, in response to September's GAO critical report. Government Executive has details. The key parts of the proposal, to be implemented "immediately":
- Require that premium class travel requests for all agency personnel, including senior-level executives be approved by an individual at least at the same level as the traveler, or by an office designated to approve premium class travel;
- Develop and issue internal guidance that explains when mission criteria and intent call for premium class accommodations;
- Define what constitutes a rest period;
- Require annual certifications of a disability, unless such disability is lifelong;
- Restrict premium class travel for both temporary duty and permanent change of station travel (relocations) when the employee is not required to report to duty the following day; and,
- Prohibit blanket travel authorizations for premium class travel, unless the traveler has a certification of disability.
August 06, 2007
Ethics Program as an Internal Control
Do you sometimes have trouble making managers understand the importance of your agency's ethics program? Some managers may not realize that the Government Accountability Office considers an agency's ethics program a key part of its internal controls, intended to insure that federal programs operate as they should.
GAO's Internal Control Management and Evaluation Tool may be useful in helping some managers appreciate the role of ethics in federal agency operations. For your convenience, a copy of the three pages most relevant to ethics officials is attached.
April 29, 2007
GAO Updates Red Book
GAO has posted the Annual Update (March 2007) of the Third Edition of the Principles of Appropriations Law (Red Book) to the Legal Products page of its website.
June 16, 2006
GAO Updates Red Book Vol II
GAO has posted an electronic version of the Principles of Appropriations Law, Third Edition, Volume II to the web page today that includes links to all available GAO decisions. It can be found under Legal Products at www.gao.gov and replaces the Second Edition of Volume II. Hard copies of the Third Edition of Volume II have been on sale from GPO for several months and can still be purchased through GPO's website.
October 01, 2005
GAO Opines on Publicity and Propaganda Prohibition
The GAO issued several opinions on September 30 that focus on the publicity or propaganda restriction found in appropriations acts.
In B-306349 (www.gao.gov/decisions/appro/306349.htm) GAO determined that DoEd's covert funding of newspaper articles violated section 6076 of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2005, Pub. L. No 109-13. The opinion noted that this Act overturned the OLC opinion of 7/24/2004, which had permitted such covert funding when news articles were purely informational.
In B-305368 (www.gao.gov/decisions/appro/305368.htm) GAO determined DoEd violated the Antideficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. 1341, for using appropriated funds to covertly fund commentary by a TV commentator.
In B-304716 (www.gao.gov/decisions/appro/304716.htm) GAO approved the use of appropriated funds to pay for services of an expert consultant because the services were not covert,self-aggrandizing, or purely partisan.
In B-304228 (www.gao.gov/decisions/appro/304228.htm), GAO noted that appropriated funds may not be used by DoEd to to conduct a media analysis of the public's perception of the Republican Party's (or any other political party's) commitment to education. However, because DoEd incurred little expense for this portion of a larger study, GAO did not find a violation of appropriations law.
April 29, 2005
GAO Issues Report on DoD's Ethics Program
Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report, "Defense Ethics Program, Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Safeguards for Procurement Integrity." Download d05341high.pdf Download d05341.pdf GAO found that DoD delegated responsibility for training and counseling employees on conflict-of-interest and procurement integrity rules to more than 2,000 ethics counselors in DoD's military services and agencies. As such, GAO found that DoD lacks the knowledge needed to determine if local ethics offices are meeting the objectives of DoD's ethics programs. This is because DoD does not track information on the quality and content of ethics training and counseling or employee activity as they relate to ethics rules and restrictions. GAO also found that DoD's knowledge of defense contractor efforts to promote ethical standards is limited. "GAO is recommeding that DoD regularly assess training and counseling efforts to ensure that individuals covered by conflict-of-interest and procurement integrity rules receive appropriate training and counseling, encure ethics officials track and report on the status of alleged misconduct, and assess contractors' ethics programs to gain knowledge and mitgate risk in DoD contracting relationships." DoD agreed with two recommendations and partially concurred witha third (tracking and reporting).
April 14, 2005
GAO Releases Testimony on Sustainment of Protests Based on Biased Official
Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released the testimony of Daniel I. Gordon, Managing Associate General Counsel for Procurement Law, before the Subcommittee on Airland, Senate Committee on Armed Services, which discusses GAO's sustainment of bid protests of Air Force procurements that arose due to the established bias of former Air Force procurement official, Darleen Druyun. Ms. Druyun's criminal conviction established that she was biased in favor of Boeing. Mr. Gordon discusses the recent bid protest decisions by GAO in response to challenges to the Air Force's actions under two programs - the C-130 avionics modernization upgrade (AMP) program and the small diameter bomb program. Download gao.Statement of Daniel Gordon on Sustainment of Protests Based on Biased Official.d05436t.pdf
April 01, 2005
GAO Issues Recommendations for Improvement of Conflict of Interest Reviews for NIH/EPA Research Arrangements
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report to Congress, "NIH and EPA Need to Improve Conflict of Interest Reviews for Research Arrangements wtih Private Sector Entities," addressing whether the agencies' research arrangements with the American Chemistry Council (ACC) posed conflict of interest concerns because the ACC represents chemical companies that are regulated by the federal government, and ACC could potentially influence, or appear to influence, scientific results that may be used to make future regulatory decisions. GAO found that neither agency had formal policies that required officials to evaluate or manage potential conflicts of interest when they entered into collaborative research arrangements, and GAO recommended that the agencies develop such formal policies. Download gao_report05191.NIH and EPA Need to Improve Conflict of Interest REviews for Research Arrangements wtin Private Sector Entities.pdf
March 19, 2005
GAO Updates Red Book
The GAO published a March 2005 update: "Principles of Federal Appropriations Law - 2004 Update of the Third Edition" These materials update the published third editon of the Red Book. They may be found at: www.gao.gov/new.items/do5354sp.pdf.
Digest of New GAO Opinions
The GAO recently published a 25-page digest of appropriations law decisions and opinions from October 2003 to December 2004. It is available on the GAO website at: www.gao.gov/special.pubs/appforum2005/d05425sp.pdf.
March 12, 2005
GAO Appropriations Law Forum
The Government Accountability Office's recent 2005 Appropriations Law Forum had a number of topics of interest to ethics counselors. Information on the following topics is archived at the GAO web site:
- Appropriations Law Review
- Meals and Refreshments
- Interagency Transactions
- Digests of Appropriations Law Decisions and Opinions (October 2003 to December 2004)
- Circular Letters
Meals and Refreshments covers some common problem areas.>
March 11, 2005
GAO Finds No Authority For NIH To Charge Conference Fee For Meals/Light Refreshments
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued an opinion to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on March 3, 2005, addressing NIH's question of whether it could charge a conference fee to attendees to defray the costs of providing meals or light refreshments at an NIH-sponsored formal conference. GAO found that the proposed conference met the criteria for providing such meals and light refreshments with appropriated funds, but that NIH has no authority to charge participants a fee and retain the funds to defray such costs. Download b300826_nih_food_at_governmentsponsored_conferences.pdf
March 04, 2005
GAO Sustains Protests of AF Award of C-130 AMP to Boeing Based on Druyun's Bias
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) sustained the protests brought by Lockheed Martin, L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, and BAE Systems of the Air Force's award to Boeing of the C-130 Avionics Modernization Program (AMP). The GAO found that Darleen Druyun, the source selection authority for the procurement, "directed various changes to the evaluation record and repeatedly questioned the evaluators' ratings in a manner that reasonably suggested Boeing's technical ratings should be higher and the protesters' technical ratings lower." The full decision is available at: http://www.gao.gov/decisions/bidpro/295401.htm.
February 28, 2005
GAO Sustains Lockheed Martin's Protest Based On Bias Of Druyun
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) sustained Lockheed Martin's protest of the Air Force's award of the small diameter bomb (SDD) program to Boeing due to irregularities in the procurement process with respect to the actions of former AF acquisition official, Darleen Druyun. GAO ruled that the AF failed to provide compelling evidence that Druyun's bias in favor of Boeing did not influence the decisions leading to the award of the SDD contract to Boeing. Download gao_lockheed_martin_corporation_b295402_february_18_2005.htm
February 26, 2005
GAO Decision on Tainted Procurement
- The potentially devasting effect of a conflict of interest, which in this case damaged a $2.7 billion dollar program, and
- The importance of documenting ethics advice given to employees departing government service and exercising care in contemporaneous oral remarks.
GAO's February 18, 2005 opinion in a bid protest case (Lockheed Martin Corporation, B-295402) involves former senior Air Force procurement official Darlene Druyun's work on a $2.7 billion "small-diameter-bomb" procurement. Here's GAO's summary of the decision:
Where the record shows that performance requirements, and associated evaluation criteria, were altered to delete a significant requirement and an evaluation factor under which the protester was viewed as having an advantage, and a senior procurement official, who was involved in discussions that culminated in the deletion of the requirement, has acknowledged bias in favor of the ultimate awardee, the protest is sustained on the basis that the agency has failed to demonstrate that the senior official's acknowledged bias did not prejudice the protester and that the integrity of the procurement process was not compromised.
The standard used by GAO is of crucial importance. Once a conflict of interest is demonstrated, GAO
places the burden on the agency to provide "compelling evidence" that the conflict did not affect the
procurement. It will usually be difficult or impossible for an agency to meet this burden:
In addressing organizational conflicts of interest, our Office has held that, where the record establishes that a conflict exists, we will presume that the protester was prejudiced, unless the record establishes the absence of prejudice. See The Jones/Hill Joint Venture, B-286194.4 et al., Dec. 5, 2001, 2001 CPD 194; TDF Corp., B-288392, B288392.2, Oct. 23, 2001, 2001 CPD 178. Similarly, where, as here, the record establishes that a procurement official was biased in favor of one offeror, and was a significant participant in agency activities that culminated in the decisions forming the basis for protest, we believe that the need to maintain the integrity of the procurement process requires that we sustain the protest unless there is compelling evidence that the protester was not prejudiced. See Department of the Air Force--Request for Recon., B-234060, B234060.2, Sept. 12, 1989, 89-2 CPD 228. As discussed below, the agency has failed to provide compelling evidence that Druyun's bias in favor of Boeing did not influence the various decisions leading to the award of the SDD contract to Boeing.
One section of the GAO opinion concerning testimony from a retired Air Force officer is of particular interest to ethics counselors. Lawyers representing Boeing pointed to alleged conflicts of interest by an Air Force brigader general who had retired and gone to work for Lockheed Martin. The phrase "30-day letter" is a reference to written ethics advice that was given to the general before separation from military service. "SJA" means Staff Judge Advocate, a senior military lawyer:
At the GAO hearing, [deleted] testified that, notwithstanding the above-quoted advice within the "30-day letter" that "Restrictions under other laws that have not been addressed in this opinion may apply to you" and that notwithstanding the specific reference to the restrictions of 18 U.S.C. 207(a)(1), (a)(2), he was subsequently advised, orally, by the SJA "not to worry about it," and that these provisions were only put into the letter to "Cover their butt."
A related story in today's Washington Post purports to identify the "deleted" witness. The Post quotes an Air Force spokesman as saying that the laissez-faire attitude described by the witness "is absolutely not a reflection of Air Force attitude or policy." A Lockheed Martin spokesman told the Post "We are confident we fully complied with all applicable post-government-employment regulations."
January 18, 2005
GAO's Summary of 9/11 Commission's Recommendations
Today, the General Accounting Office (GAO) released its summary of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations and GAO's opinions as to whether the particular recommendations could be implemented administratively or require legislation to implement.
December 22, 2004
GAO Issues Proposed Rule To Allow Agency Officials To File Protests
On December 20, 2004, the Government Accountability Office issued a proposed rule in the Federal Register Download gao_federal_register_notice.pdf to amend its Bid Protest Regulations to implement section 326 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, expanding the definition of an "interested party" and an "intervenor" for purposes of filing a protest and intervening in an existing protest at GAO with respect to a public-private competition conducted in accordance with OMB Circular A-76. GAO proposes to expand the definition of "interested party" to include the official responsible for submitting the Federal agency tender in an A-76 competition regarding an activity or function of an agency performed by more than 65 full-time employees, and to expand the definition of "intervenor"to include a person representing a majority of the Federal employees in such a competition, thereby allowing union representatives to intervene in existing protests. GAO also proposes to eliminate the requirement for protesters to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing at GAO in A-76 competition. There is still an open question regarding agency attorney representation with respect to such protests.
October 26, 2004
GAO Analysis on Use of Political Affiliation in Selecting Members for Federal Advisory Commmittees
The GAO's recent letter to Congressman Baird, "Legal Principles Applicable to Selection of Federal Advisory Committee Members, B-303767, October 18, 2004," provides general legal principles that may apply to the selection of advisory committee members. GAO's analysis responded to Congressman Baird's follow-up question on GAO's report on Federal Advisory Committees (GAO-04-328, April 2004), and concerned whether agencies may inquire about and consider an individual's political affiliation in selecting members for their advisory committees.
GAO Issues Agency Protocols
GAO's Agency Protocols, GAO-05-35G, October 2004, concerning its audit function, "set forth clearly defined and transparent policies and practices on how GAO carries out its work . . . [identifies] what the agencies can expect from GAO and what GAO expects of the agencies." The Protocols cover such topics as GAO's statutory responsibilities, communication between GAO and Agencies, the entrance conference, disposition of agency comments, testimony, follow-up, Office of Special Investigations, Access to Agency Information, and Press Policy.
October 06, 2004
GAO Determines Forest Service Brochure Did Not Violate Prohibitions Against Use of Appropriated Funds
In Decision B-302992, GAO determined that the Forest Service's use of appropriated funds to produce and distribute a brochure entitled "Forests With a Future: Protecting Old Growth Trees, Wildlife and Communities in Sierra Nevada" did not violate the prohibition against using appropriated funds for publicity or propaganda purposes. GAO also determined that the Forest Service's contract with a private company to assist with the production and distribution of the brochure did not violate the prohibition against using appropriated funds to pay a publicity expert.
September 28, 2004
GAO Updates Red Book Vol I
GAO announced today that it has posted its third edition (January 2004) of Volume 1, Principles of Federal Appropriations Law (Red Book) on its website: www.gao.gov/special.pubs/redbook1.html. This edition covers many fiscal issues commonly involved in standards of conduct questions such as the availability of appropriations for purpose and time. It covers specific issues such use of appropiated funds for lobbying, meetings, entertainment, membership fees, personal expenses, gifts, and rewards.
September 15, 2004
Government Purchase Card Abuse at Four Government-Owned Contractor-Operated Nuclear Labs Cited in GAO Reports
Today's Government Executive stated that reports by the Government Accountability Office disclosed abuses by Government purchase card holders at two National Nuclear Security Administration labs and two Energy Department labs.
September 08, 2004
GAO Decision that HHS Appropriation Not Available to Pay Salary of Official Who Prohibited Employee From Communicating With Congress
GAO's opinion, B-302911, to the Department of Health and Human Services found that alleged threats made by the former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), to the CMS Chief Actuary to terminate the Chief's employment if he provided various cost estimates of then-pending prescription drug legisation to members of Congress, violated a provision of HHS's appropriation and made it unavailable to pay the Administrator's salary.
September 03, 2004
GAO Upholds Protest Based on Organizational Conflict of Interest (OCI)
The Comptroller General sustained a protest by PURVIS Systems, Inc. based on a finding that the winning contractor, Northrop Grumman (NG), failed to reasonably consider or evaluate potential organizational conflicts of interest (OCI) created when the contract required NG to evaluate the performance of systems that either NG had manufactured or were manufactured by NG's competitors. The opinion offers guidance into the standard of care necessary to mitigate OCIs. It also extends OCI, beyond evaluations of the awardee's equipment, to the equipment of the awardee's competitors.
PURVIS Systems, Inc. B293807.3; B-293807.4 August 16, 2004. Available on-line at: www.gao.gov/decisions/bidpro/2938073.htm
August 26, 2004
GAO on Payment of Professional Dues
The Government Accountability Office has affirmed that 5 U.S.C. 5757(a) authorizes federal agencies to reimburse lawyers for licensing fees necessary to hold a position: Scope of Professional Credentials Statute, B-302548, August 20, 2004, with a link to a PDF version of the full opinion.
Note that such payments are discretionary. Agencies are not required to pay anything. Further, it appears that agencies may not be authorized to pay "optional" fees, such as dues for the ABA or other bar associations that are not requirements for holding a job.
August 25, 2004
GAO Approves Purchase of Appliances for Workplace
In a departure from earlier opinions, the Comptroller General approved the use of appropriated funds to purchase refrigerators, microwaves, and commercial coffee makers for Federal agencies when the primary benefit of their use accrues to the agency, notwithstanding a collateral benefit to personnel. The opinion, B-302993, was issued on June 25, 2004, and may be found at: http://www.gao.gov/decisions/appro/appro.htm. In coming to this conclusion, the GAO cited the ways in which the agency benefits from these expenditures, and also noted that employees have come to expect such appliances in the workplace.