February 10, 2015
What happened with the GSA in Vegas stymies federal workers
The Washington Post reports: When federal employees get together for training and meetings, fancy lunches aren’t on the menu anymore. In fact, food of any kind — tuna fish sandwiches, green salad, oatmeal cookies — can no longer be served by the government. Even coffee is off-limits.
Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies say they can no longer travel to academic conferences to present their research.
And mental-health workers at military hospitals say they are in danger of losing their licenses because they can’t attend refresher courses.
Three years after the Obama administration clamped down on travel and training in response to the uproar over a Las Vegas conference where hundreds of federal workers partied for four days at taxpayer expense, the restrictions are taking an unanticipated toll. Employees at a wide range of agencies say the rules are gumming up the machinery of government.
While the government has not released data on how much agencies spent on travel and conferences before the crackdown, White House officials say the restrictions have saved close to $3 billion and ensured that taxpayers are not paying for more boondoggles.
But these officials are also acknowledging that agencies have become too rigid. Last month, the White House issued new instructions giving agencies more flexibility “to reduce burdens and streamline the process” for employees to travel and attend conferences, said Jamal Brown, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget. These changes include easing the spending caps on some “mission critical” travel and allowing employees to seek pre-approval for a list of conferences, rather than before each one.
November 17, 2014
IG: Energy Lab Lobbied Officials for $2.4 Billion No-Bid Contract
Federal investigators say employees at Sandia National Laboratories used taxpayer funds to lobby members of Congress and senior department officials to extend the lab’s management contract with Lockheed Martin Corp.—valued at $2.4 billion annually—without opening it up for competition.
“The use of federal funds for the development of a plan to influence members of Congress and federal officials to, in essence, prevent competition was inexplicable and unjustified,” Energy Inspector General Gregory Friedman concluded after conducting a special inquiry into the allegations. The IG’s Nov. 7 report was released Wednesday.
October 01, 2014
Ex-GSA Executive Jeff Neely Indicted for Fraud
Jeff Neely, the General Services Administration executive viewed as the ringleader of the lavish spending on a 2010 training conference in Las Vegas, was indicted on five counts of fraud on Thursday by a federal grand jury in San Francisco.
The 59-year-old former head of region nine of the Public Building Service faces charges of making fraudulent reimbursement claims and false statements, according to an announcement from United States Attorney Melinda Haag of Northern California and GSA Office of Inspector General Special Agent in Charge David House.
Neely is “alleged to have fraudulently sought reimbursement for personal travel and expenses—incurred in Las Vegas, Nev.; Long Beach, Calif.; Guam; and Saipan—by submitting false and fraudulent claims to the United States,” the announcement said. “The indictment further alleges that, when GSA employees questioned him about these expenses, Neely falsely represented that the costs were incurred for official government business.”
If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, and a fine of $250,000 for each violation.
March 31, 2014
USPS Workers Went Bowling, Gambling Using Agency Credit Cards
GovExec.com reports: U.S. Postal Service employees used agency credit cards to pay for gambling sprees, bowling games and personal travel, according to a report in the Washington Examiner.
One manager used her card to withdraw $32,000 in cash to gamble, according to Freedom of Information Act documents obtained by the Examiner. Closed investigations by the USPS inspector general found the manager also used her card to rent cars for personal use, charging the agency a total of $45,000 in personal expenses. The employee repaid the money and took an early retirement offer.
A second employee also withdrew $2,400 from her agency card to gamble. She too repaid the debt after initially claiming she used her government card accidentally. She has since been fired.
The Postal Service said the actions of a few do not represent its workforce of nearly 500,000. “We take any claim of employee misconduct very seriously,” USPS spokesman Dave Partenheimer told Government Executive. “Cases like this are thoroughly investigated and action is then taken to ensure compliance with Postal Service policies as well as applicable state and federal laws. Postal Service employees are hard-working, responsible and exceptional employees.”
January 28, 2014
Dept. of Homeland Security suspends overtime program
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is suspending an overtime program that officials say has been widely abused, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
DHS officials are suspending administratively uncontrollable overtime (AUO) for certain employees who work in the headquarters of department agencies, full-time training instructors and those found by DHS investigators to have improperly received the overtime.
“DHS takes seriously its responsibility to ensure proper use of taxpayer funds,” Peter Boogaard, a DHS spokesman, said by e-mail. “While many frontline officers and agents across the department require work hour flexibility, often through the use of Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime (AUO), misuse of these funds is not tolerated. Late last year, DHS leadership initiated a department-wide review of the use of AUO, and today the Department announced an important initial step in reforming the use of this program.”
December 19, 2013
EPA official, who pretended to work for CIA, sentenced to 32 months
The Washington Post reports: A former high-level official at the Environmental Protection Agency, who pretended to work for the CIA to avoid the office, said he was motivated by a sense of excitement and the rush of getting away with something.
John C. Beale, a former EPA senior policy advisor, explained his motivations for the first time in a federal courtroom Wednesday before he was sentenced to more than 2 ½ years in prison for stealing nearly $900,000 in taxpayer funds.
U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle said Beale’s deception had “made a mockery of working for the federal government.”
Beale, 65, admitted in September that he had skipped out on work for years by telling a series of supervisors, including top officials in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, that he was doing top-secret work for the CIA. He was paid for a total of 2 ½ years of work he did not perform since early 2000 and received about $500,000 in bonuses he did not deserve, according to his plea agreement.
November 14, 2013
Two Secret Service Agents Removed from President's Protection Detail
Govexec.com reports: Two Secret Service agents responsible for overseeing the security detail for President Obama were quietly removed from their roles earlier this year after multiple allegations of misconduct. The agents prompted an internal investigation, according to the Washington Post's scoop on yet another story of (alleged) bad behavior at the agency. The Post's report, citing four anonymous sources, comes as the Homeland Security Department prepares to release the results of an investigation into the Secret Service's culture, prompted by the incident in Colombia.
November 06, 2013
DOD IG Cites Several Instances of Misuse of Position
The Washington Post reports:
If you’d like to play golf on government time, Steven Calvery , who runs the Pentagon’s police force, could be the boss for you. Then again, if fetching lunch and coffee for your supervisor every day doesn’t appeal, you may want to work elsewhere.
Calvery, the director of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, which safeguards the building and 100 other military sites around Washington, has been dinged by the Defense Department inspector general for “misusing” his position and underlings, our colleague Craig Whitlock reports.
In a 40-page report released Monday, the inspector general also said Calvery improperly allowed an unnamed relative to blast away at the Pentagon Force Protection Agency firing range, using a PFPA weapon and ammunition. Tips and advice were provided, gratis, by two PFPA firearms instructors. The relative was applying for a job with another law enforcement agency and apparently needed some practice, the report found.
The inspector general began its misconduct investigation into Calvery after it received a couple of anonymous complaints in March 2011, as well as a letter from an unidentified U.S. senator. The inspector general labored on the inquiry for nearly two years, wrapping things up on Feb. 20, but then kept the findings quiet. On April 2, The Washington Post filed a request for the Calvery investigation under the Freedom of Information Act. Investigators found that Calvery wanted to boost the “esprit de corps” of the 1,300 folks who worked for him. So in 2009 and 2010, he decreed that anyone who wanted to play in the PFPA’s annual golf tournament would receive four hours’ paid administrative leave.
November 04, 2013
Five officials left VA in wake of conference fallout
Five Veterans Affairs Department officials involved in two costly 2011 conferences have resigned or retired since the VA inspector general faulted their roles in planning, managing and overseeing the training events in Orlando, Fla., according to a newly released congressional report.
The highest ranking, former VA chief human capital officer John Sepulveda, resigned Sept. 30, 2012, one day before the public release of the IG review alleging that he lied about his involvement in the production of a $50,000 parody video of the movie “Patton” shown at the conferences. While the departure of Sepulveda — who in a sworn affidavit denied purposefully misleading investigators — was widely reported at the time, the other four officials have since stepped down with little or no fanfare.
On Wednesday, Sepulveda repeatedly assserted his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the department’s conference spending. In a statement, his lawyer, Preston Burton. said he knew of no current investigation involving Sepulveda, but objected that the committee report failed to mention the affidavit, despite “parroting the IG’s rejected contentions.” The committee’s partisan agenda left Sepulveda little choice but to assert his constitutional right, Burton said.
John Gingrich, chief of staff to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, retired in March, according to the House committee’s report released in advance of the hearing. Tonya Deanes, previously deputy assistant secretary of human resources management, resigned earlier this year after being assigned to other duties. Also resigning were Alice Muellerweiss, dean of the VA Learning University (VALU) and Timothy Pleso, a VALU event manager who was one of the lead conference planners, the House report said. The inspector general had recommended administrative action against Gingrich, Muellerweiss and Deanes, while referring Pleso’s case to the Justice Department for prosecution for allegedly seeking and accepting improper gifts.
November 01, 2013
Homeland Security workers routinely boost pay with unearned overtime, report says
The Washington Post reports:
Federal employees at the Department of Homeland Security call it the “candy bowl,” a pot of overtime money they have long dipped into to pad their pay even if they haven’t earned it, whistleblowers say.
This practice, which can add up to 25 percent to a paycheck, has become so routine over the last generation that it’s often held out as a perk when government managers try to recruit new employees, according to these accounts.
In a report submitted to the White House and Congress on Thursday, the federal Office of Special Counsel (OSC) details what it calls a “profound and entrenched problem” at DHS and a “gross waste of government funds.” Based on the testimony of seven whistleblowers, the OSC concludes that the pervasive misuse of overtime pay in six DHS offices, including four within Customs and Border Protection (CBP), comes to $8.7 million a year.
At issue is Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime, known as AUO, which is meant only to compensate for urgent and unanticipated work like that often undertaken by law enforcement agents.
But Carolyn Lerner, special counsel at the OSC, an investigative and prosecutorial agency, said in an interview that many employees across DHS now consider the overtime pay their due. She said the whistleblowers’ testimony suggests that the department’s bill for these improper payments is running in the tens of millions of dollars a year.
October 21, 2013
Senior officer, NCIS agent are among those arrested in Navy bribery scandal
The U.S. Navy is being rocked by a bribery scandal that federal investigators say has reached high into the officer corps and exposed a massive overbilling scheme run by an Asian defense contractor that provided prostitutes and other kickbacks.
Among those arrested on corruption charges are a senior agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and a Navy commander who escaped Cambodia’s “killing fields” as a child only to make a triumphant return to the country decades later as the skipper of a U.S. destroyer.
The investigation has also ensnared a Navy captain who was relieved of his ship’s command this month in Japan. The chief executive of the Singapore-based defense contractor, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, and another company official were arrested last month at a San Diego harborside hotel after federal investigators lured them to the United States by arranging a sham meeting with Navy officials, according to court records and people involved in the case.
The unfolding investigation is shaping up as the biggest fraud case in years for the Navy. Federal prosecutors allege that Glenn Defense Marine, which has serviced and supplied Navy ships and submarines at ports around the Pacific for a quarter-century, routinely overbilled for everything from tugboats to fuel to sewage disposal.
September 28, 2013
Ex-EPA official pleads guilty to theft, pretended to work for the CIA
A former high-level official at the Environmental Protection Agency pleaded guilty Friday to stealing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars by pretending to work for the CIA.
For years, John C. Beale disappeared from the office and explained his lengthy absences by telling his bosses he was doing top-secret work. Beale never worked for the CIA, never had top-secret security clearance and carried on a “pattern of deception for over 10 years,” said magistrate Judge John M. Facciola.
Beale, 64, was charged in August with collecting nearly $900,000 in pay and bonuses for work he avoided performing at EPA. New details emerged Friday about Beale’s scheme. During a 12-year period, prosecutors said, he was away from the office for at least 102 days under the guise of working for the CIA. He took five personal trips to Los Angeles for what he said was a “special research project” and charged the government $57,000 for his travel. To obtain a parking space, Beale lied to his managers about having contracted malaria while serving in Vietnam. He never served in Vietnam, according to the statement of offence Facciola summarized in court.
Mark Lowenthal, a former CIA official who is now president of the Intelligence & Security Academy, said a person who was legitimately working undercover would never have explicitly told colleagues as Beale did, “I’ve got secret work to do.” “His whole story was wholly implausible, and unfortunately, somebody should have been smart enough to realize,” Lowenthal said. “But this is Washington and people never know who is who, and are tickled by the secret stuff going on.”
September 26, 2013
Navy Commander and NCIS Agent Charged in Bribery Scheme
A U.S. Navy commander, an NCIS Special agent and a Singapore businessman have been charged in what prosecutors call a worldwide bribery scheme involving hundreds of millions of dollars in defense contracts.
The case involves a multinational company that supplies Navy ships with food, water and waste services when they dock at countries in Asia. Leonard Francis, CEO of the Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., was arrested in San Diego Monday and appeared in San Diego Federal Court Tuesday on charges in two separate bribery investigations. Francis, 58, allegedly bribed U.S. Navy Commander Mike Misiewicz, 46, to redirect U.S. Navy vessels to ports his company would benefit from, according to court documents obtained by NBC 7 News. He then allegedly bribed NCIS Special Agent John Beliveau, 36, to gain confidential information in a fraud investigation, the documents say.
All three have been charged with conspiring to commit bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison.
September 22, 2013
Tom DeLay conviction overturned by Texas court
The Washington Post reports: A Texas appellate court has overturned the conviction of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) for allegedly scheming to influence Texas state elections with corporate money. A three-judge panel voted 2-1 to overturn the conviction, calling the evidence "legally insufficient," according to court papers released Thursday.
The decision formally acquits DeLay of all charges, but it could still be appealed by the government. (Read the court's majority opinion and dissenting opinions.)
DeLay, 66, was convicted in 2010 for allegedly trying to influence Texas elections by funneling corporate money to various candidates. Prosecutors said that the money helped the GOP win control of the Texas House and that the majority then pushed through a DeLay-organized congressional redistricting plan that sent more Republicans to Congress. DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison, but remained free while awaiting appeal rulings.
September 05, 2013
Former senior EPA adviser Beale expected to plead guilty in $900,000 pay fraud
The Washington Post reports:
Over the past 12 years, John C. Beale was often away from his job as a high-level staffer at the Environmental Protection Agency. He cultivated an air of mystery and explained his lengthy absences by telling his bosses that he was doing top-secret work, including for the CIA. For years, apparently, no one checked.
Now, Beale is charged with stealing nearly $900,000 from the EPA by receiving pay and bonuses he did not deserve. He faces up to three years in prison.
Beale, 64, who was a senior policy adviser in the Office of Air and Radiation, is expected to plead guilty at a hearing scheduled for Monday at U.S. District Court in Washington. “This is a situation where one individual went to great lengths to deceive and defraud the U.S. government,” said EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson. Beale’s attorney, John W. Kern, declined to comment on the case, as did a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr.
At agency headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, Beale fostered an enigmatic image. He frequently traveled to China, South Africa and England, according to several people who worked with him. He would describe his trips and mention a lingering case of malaria. The Arlington County resident told colleagues that his stints away from the office were for “sensitive work for another agency,” according to an official familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is pending.
August 05, 2013
Former Homeland Security Supervisor Heads to Prison
A former manager at the Homeland Security Department is going to prison for taking nearly $13,000 in bribes from a government contractor.
A U.S. District Court judge recently sentenced Derek Matthews, 47, of Harwood, Md., to 15 months in prison and one year of supervised release for using his position at the Federal Protective Service to help a security service firm win more than $31 million in government contracts. Matthews pleaded guilty in April.
Matthews, who served as deputy assistant director for operations at FPS and later was promoted to regional director for the national capital region, netted $12,500 in bribes from Keith Hedman, an executive at an Arlington, Va., consulting firm, known as Company B in court documents. Company B was a shell company Hedman set up to obtain federal contracts set aside for minority-owned and disadvantaged small businesses.
Hedman in 2011 agreed to pay Matthews $50,000 in monthly installments over a year and a percentage of profits from new business in exchange for Matthews’ help finding and winning contracts. Matthews, who supervised 13,000 employees and 9,000 federal buildings in his job, received three monthly payments before investigators interrupted the scheme.
July 30, 2013
Congress Takes Aim at Senior Execs
Legislation circulating in Congress would empower agencies to immediately fire senior executives accused of misconduct under certain circumstances.
The bills, backed by several Republicans in both chambers, also would allow the government to put those top career employees on leave without pay for three months pending the outcome of an investigation. The legislation directs agencies to fire, suspend without pay, or reinstate employees at the end of the 90 days.
The Government Employee Accountability Act (H.R. 2759) is one of 10 bills the House will vote on this week as part of its “Stop Government Abuse” initiative. Other bills included in the initiative are specifically targeted at government spending as well at the Internal Revenue Service, which is still reeling from its management scandal involving career employees. H.R. 2759 allows agency leaders to remove senior executives on the spot if they determine that they have neglected their jobs, used taxpayer funds inappropriately or engaged in malfeasance, and if those actions endanger the interests of the agency or the country, according to the legislation. If agencies cannot remove such an employee expeditiously any other way, then immediate termination is an option under the bills. Employees would still retain their existing due process rights, including the right to appeal their removal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.
July 16, 2013
Former Army official accused of scamming Ky. soldiers
A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted a 42-year-old former Army official on identity theft and bank fraud charges, saying he tried to obtain loans by using stolen identities of active-duty and deployed soldiers. According to the indictment, James R. Jones, who was an assistant inspector general with the Army Office of Inspector General at Fort Campbell, illegally obtained Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other personal information of Army officers — some of whom were deployed in Afghanistan.
Authorities say one of his victims was a U.S. soldier who was killed in combat in Afghanistan, though they did not name the soldier.
Rich Rudnick, director of operations of the National Veterans Foundation, said the incident should raise questions at Fort Campbell about how leadership positions are filled and who exactly is monitoring soldiers’ personal information. “This could point to a structural failure,” said Rudnick, based in Los Angeles. “Is Fort Campbell protecting people’s information? Are they doing their job correctly? Are they doing due diligence to background employees? What kind of controls do military bases use to protect personal records?”
July 11, 2013
Ex- Army Corps official sentenced in contracting scheme of ‘historic proportions’
A longtime Army Corps of Engineers employee and the mastermind of a government contracting scam of “historic proportions” will spend nearly two decades behind bars, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
“You made history for the wrong reasons,” U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said before sentencing Kerry F. Khan of Alexandria to 235 months in prison and ordering him to pay more than $32 million in restitution.
Khan, a former contracting officer, was the ringleader of a network of corrupt public officials, government contractors and family members who stole taxpayer money through inflated billings and fake invoices in what authorities have called the largest bribery and “bid-steering scheme in the history of federal contracting.” The investigation has led to the prosecution of more than a dozen people and exposed weaknesses in oversight of federal government contracting.
July 01, 2013
IRS Audit Finds Misuse of Government Purchase Cards
The Internal Revenue Service inadequately polices its employees’ use of purchasing cards for transactions of up to $3,000, an audit found, and the agency needs new procedures for canceling the cards used by staffers who leave. “Inadequate procedures to identify, report and address inappropriate use leave the IRS purchase card program vulnerable to repeated violations of applicable laws and regulations,” said J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, in a report released Tuesday. “While the majority of IRS cardholders appear to use their purchase cards properly, TIGTA’s audit identified some troubling instances of inappropriate usage.” For fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2011, the IRS made more than 273,000 micro-purchases totaling $103.2 million with cards in 5,241 accounts.
IRS representatives used cards to purchase multiple lunches, dinners and related alcohol, the report noted. “For example, one dinner had an approximate cost of $140 per guest and another lunch cost $100 per guest,” the report said. “TIGTA did not find any Department of the Treasury or IRS criteria to assess the reasonableness of these charges.” The report also questioned some expenditures on “decorative or give-away items for managers’ meetings.”
June 20, 2013
New Conference Spending Guidance Discourages Lavish 'Social Components'
At a time when overspending on agency conferences continues to make headlines, the Obama administration has fleshed out its guidance to help event planners balance mission needs with cost-cutting imperatives, assuring employees that it has not called for a moratorium on professional gatherings.
“As each agency reviews its travel and conference-related activities, it is critical for each agency to continue to recognize the important role that mission-related travel and conferences can often play in government operations,” the Office of Management and Budget said in an “alert” to chief financial officers dated May 28 and posted June 3. “Given the unique travel and conference needs of each agency, there are circumstances in which physical collocation is necessary to complete the mission.”
The guidance builds on a May 2012 OMB memorandum that required a 30 percent reduction in travel costs from 2010 levels through 2016; set up new internal controls that require senior management approval of conferences above a certain threshold; and required public reporting of conferences costing more than $100,000. OMB has since worked the American Society of Association Executives on more-detailed protocols and best practices, among them that “events should not include excessive or lavish social components,” the new guidance says.
June 19, 2013
Hollywood Didn’t Get Undue Access for Bin Laden Film, Auditors Say
Allegations that the White House sought special access to the Defense Department for screenwriters planning a film on the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Ladin were found unsubstantiated in a Pentagon inspector general’s report released on Friday.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, in August 2011 had asked for a probe of whether Hollywood producers and writers had been given “top-level access to the most classified mission in history.” The subsequent investigation was broadened to address a complaint that Leon Panetta, when he was CIA director, had violated procedure by speaking the name of the Navy SEAL commander of the bin Ladin raid during a June 2011 awards ceremony at CIA headquarters.
In response to the King’s initial queries, the report concluded, “Our review did not identify consultations between DoD personnel and representatives of the Executive Office of the President.” The White House, it continued, did communicate with Deputy Defense Secretary for Intelligence Michael Vickers on the film project, and a special operations planner was designated to meet with the filmmakers, but no such meeting occurred.
June 17, 2013
Report: Va. Gov. McDonnell, wife billed taxpayers for personal items
Records obtained by The Washington Post state: Taxpayers have footed the bill for personal expenses, including body wash and dog vitamins, bought on behalf of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife. Records show the McDonnells billed the state for personal expenses that totaled less than $600. Among the expenses: a digestive system cleanse, sunscreen and sleep aids.
The Post reports the couple also reimbursed the state for more than $300 after an official who oversees spending at the Executive Mansion told the McDonnells taxpayers should not have paid for items, including deodorant and dry-cleaning for their children. However, the McDonnells also have used state employees to run errands for their adult children, including picking up a pair of pants at a tailoring shop. And after reimbursing the state for the more than $300, the Post says the McDonnells continued to bill Virginians for items, such as nasal spray and vitamins.
It's not known whether taxpayers were fully paid back for personal items because the state released only 16 receipts after the Post requested records covering 3 1/2 years. McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin tells the Post the governor's administration "has adhered to precedent in reimbursing the state for items meant for personal use."
June 10, 2013
EPA Contractors Create TV and Exercise Areas in WarehouseA warehouse maintained by contractors for the Environmental Protection Agency contained secret rooms full of exercise equipment, televisions and couches, according to an internal audit. EPA’s inspector general found contractors used partitions, screens and piled up boxes to hide the rooms from security cameras in the 70,000 square-foot building located in Landover, Md. The warehouse -- used for inventory storage -- is owned by the General Services Administration and leased to the EPA for about $750,000 per year. The EPA has issued a stop work order to Apex Logistics LLC, the responsible contractor, ensuring the company’s workers no longer have access to the site -- EPA security officials escorted contractor personnel off the premises on May 17 -- and ending all payments on the contract.
June 05, 2013
More on IG Report on IRS Conference Spending
Some 2,600 Internal Revenue Service managers gathered in Anaheim, Calif., in August 2010 were treated to $50,000 worth of comic videos and $135,000 worth of guest speakers, one of whom collected $17,000 to paint portraits of famous personages on stage, an audit found. The two-day, $4.1 million event staged at Hilton and Marriott hotels by the IRS’ Small Business/Self Employed Division was authorized according to procedure by deputy commissioners and paid for with unused funds from a hiring initiative in the agency’s enforcement budget, according to the audit released Tuesday by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
The Anaheim event titled “Leading Into the Future” was one among 225 IRS conferences from fiscal 2010 to 2012 costing some $48.6 million, TIGTA found, and took place before an Obama administration crackdown on conference spending that began in 2011.
“TIGTA determined that the IRS did not use available internal personnel to assist in searching for the most cost-effective location as required,” the report said. “Instead, SB/SE Division management approached two non governmental event planners to identify a suitable off-site location for the conference,” planners who were given a $133,000 commission based on room costs. “These two planners were not under contract with the IRS,” TIGTA said. “Hence they had no incentive to negotiate a favorable room rate for the IRS.”
June 03, 2013
IRS spent $50M holding 220 employee conferences over three years
NBC.com reports: The Internal Revenue Service, already under fire after officials disclosed that the agency targeted conservative groups, faces increased scrutiny because of an inspector general's report that it spent about $50 million to hold at least 220 conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012. The report by the Treasury Department's inspector general about conference spending is set to be released Tuesday. The department issued a statement Sunday saying the administration "has already taken aggressive and dramatic action to reduce conference spending."
May 15, 2013
Sentencing postponed for Scott Bloch, former head of the Office of Special Counsel
The Washington Post reports: The legal case for Scott J. Bloch, the former head of the federal agency that protects government whistleblowers, continued Monday when a federal judge balked at proceeding with sentencing because of what he called an “improperly sanitized version of events.”
Bloch, the Bush-era head of the Office of Special Counsel, pleaded guilty in February to a misdemeanor charge of destroying government property when he ordered the deletion of office computer files by private technicians.
Bloch admitted in 2010 that he had not given House investigators complete information about an incident in which he hired a company called Geeks on Call to scrub computers at the Office of Special Counsel. At the time, Bloch had been accused of retaliating against his staff and closing whistleblower cases without proper investigation. He has maintained that he was trying to deal with a computer virus.
Bloch was initially sentenced to 30 days in jail, but a federal judge allowed him to withdraw his guilty plea because neither side in the case had been aware that the offense required a sentence of jail time.
Congress to Investigate Whether IRS Employees Mishandled Sensitive Data
House and Senate lawmakers plan to investigate whether tax agency officials exploited stored sensitive information about conservative political organizations that filed for tax-exempt status, congressional aides said on Tuesday.
The IRS apologized May 10 for applying extra scrutiny to groups whose names included words such as "tea party" and "patriot" when vetting the organizations for compliance with tax laws. It’s not clear if IRS employees with computer privileges mishandled sensitive information related to the targeted organizations, such as disclosing donor lists to unauthorized individuals. A draft inspector general timeline outlining the evolution of the policy on reviewing tax-exempt applications obtained by Nextgov states IRS officials decided certain sensitive data could be expunged. “The requested donor information could be destroyed . . . It does not need to be kept in the administrative file,” the government documents state.So far, there have been no indications agency personnel violated data protection rules for tax documents. Nonetheless, abuse of the conservative groups’ information is a worry, according to staff for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich. The aides said lawmakers plan to address the issue at a committee hearing Friday on the IRS’s political profiling of applicants for tax-exempt status.
May 10, 2013
Bill Proposes to Lift Ban on Federal Conferences in Resort Towns
A bipartisan group of House members from Nevada want to eliminate bans on federal agencies holding conferences in casinos or resort locations. The bill—proposed by Republican Reps. Mark Amodei and Joe Heck, and Democratic Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford—says such prohibitions are counterproductive and unfairly target areas with high numbers of resort and vacation locations.
The lawmakers say agencies are moving to more expensive venues because they want to “avoid any stigma associated with the ‘resort or ‘casino’ name,” even when these sites may actually provide federal agencies and taxpayers a better deal. “These prohibitions emphasize optics over real fiscal restraint,” Amodei said in a statement.
The proposed legislation comes a little more than a year after revelations the General Services Administration dropped $820,000 on a 2010 training conference in Las Vegas. Several agency executives were dismissed or resigned from their positions in the aftermath of the scandal, including former GSA Administrator Martha Johnson, and agencies across government tightened their travel and conference spending.
Some agencies, including those within the Agriculture, Justice and Homeland Security departments, have implemented formal bans prohibiting travel to resort locations.
May 03, 2013
Commerce agents plead guilty to fraud against agency
Two former Commerce agents who allegedly accused superiors of wrongdoing pleaded guilty Tuesday to filing false expense claims and clocking hours they didn’t work, according to the Justice Department.
Rachel Ondrik, 35, of Frederick and Kirk Yamatani, 38, of Ashburn, who worked as special agents for the inspector general’s office of the Commerce Department, sought payment for more than $36,000 each in false relocation expenses, according to their plea agreements.The former agents also committed time and attendance fraud, the Justice Department said. As part of their pleas, Ondrik and Yamatani agreed to probation and $42,000 each in fines and restitution to the government.
May 01, 2013
Charges Filed in Contract Fraud Probe
Kathleen McGrade was a contract specialist inside the State Department, but prosecutors say she didn’t live like one. Steering tens of millions of dollars in work to a company controlled by her husband, McGrade bought a yacht, penthouse condo and lots of jewelry, according to charges unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Virginia.
McGrade, 64, and her husband, Brian C. Collinsworth, 46, both of Fredericksburg, Va., face up to 20 years in prison on charges stemming from what authorities called a “secret scheme” by the couple to steer more than $60 million to a company they controlled.
April 23, 2013
Committee Wants Update on Postal Regulatory Commission Travel Spending
Leaders of a Senate oversight committee are requesting follow-up information on travel expenditures at the Postal Regulatory Commission. Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, made the request in a letter to PRC Chairwoman Ruth Goldway.
The chairwoman came under fire last year after an investigation revealed she had spent more than $70,000 on travel since taking the position in August 2009. “The Postal Service lost nearly $16 billion and recently reached its $15 billion borrowing limit with Treasury,” Carper and Coburn wrote in the letter. “Difficult financial times such as these demand both innovative solutions and leadership by example.”
The senators asked that Goldway provide their committee with details on what changes to travel policy PRC has made, as well as a list of all trips made in calendar years 2012 and 2013. They also asked for costs -- or estimated costs for future trips -- of all business travel.
April 22, 2013
24 Current and Former IRS Employees Charged With Stealing Government Benefits
Federal and Tennessee state prosecutors on Wednesday charged 24 current and former Internal Revenue Service employees with “fraudulently obtaining more than $250,000 in government benefits.”
According to a statement released by the office of U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III, federal authorities charged 13 individuals with “falsely [stating] that they were unemployed,” while applying for and obtaining numerous federal benefits including unemployment insurance, money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Housing Choice vouchers.
If convicted, the accused could face up to five years in prison under the law. Stanton said the case demonstrated the Justice Department’s “unwavering resolve” to work with law enforcement and “hold accountable anyone” for fraudulently claiming government benefits.
April 18, 2013
GSA Appeals Official's Reinstatement, but Restores His Pay
The General Services Administration late Monday announced it is appealing an administrative judge’s March ruling reversing the agency’s year-old decision to remove Paul Prouty as a regional commissioner of the scandal-tarnished Public Buildings Service.
Acting just before an April 15 deadline, GSA agreed to return Prouty to the position he lost with other top officials after disclosure of overspending by the PBS at a 2010 training conference held in Las Vegas. Though Prouty, who lives in Denver, Colo., will regain full back pay and benefits while the appeal proceeds, he will be placed on administrative leave due to a determination that his presence in the workplace would be “unduly disruptive to the work environment,” according to GSA.
“GSA has taken strong action against those officials whom we believe were responsible and will continue to do so where appropriate,” said GSA spokeswoman Mafara Hobson. “Over the past year, the agency has saved nearly $30 million in conference and travel spending as a result of strict internal reforms and oversight.”
April 17, 2013
New policies may change MWAA executives’ travel practices
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has earned praise from Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for changes to the authority’s travel and ethics policies after revelations that some board members spent lavishly on plane tickets and meals.
Documents detailing the expenses of top MWAA executives, however, show that some of them have similarly pricey tastes and, under new policies, may have to cut back on their business travel and meal expenses.
During the 15-month period covered by the documents, at least four top MWAA officials — the vice presidents for air-service development, finance and business administration and the now-former vice president for information and telecommunication services — each filed more than $10,000 in expenses. One MWAA vice president purchased a plane ticket that cost $12,000, according to the records, which were obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act. By contrast, John E. “Jack” Potter, the MWAA’s president and chief executive, spent just under $3,500 during the time covered by the documents.
None of the expenses appear to violate the MWAA policies in place at the time, but they add new context to the controversy that erupted last summer over the expenses of another top MWAA official.
April 12, 2013
Contractor pleads guilty in bribery, bid-rigging case
A northern Virginia technology contracting firm and its former president pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington to bribery charges in what prosecutors call the largest bid rigging scam in federal contracting history.
The company, Nova Datacom, admitted paying more than $15 million in bribes to three officials in the Army Corps of Engineers and the Army, according to prosecutors. The investigation found more than $30 million bilked by corrupt contractors and officials through inflated and bogus invoices.
Nova Datacom’s former president, Min Jung Cho, 44, faces up to five years in prison and the company faces up to $79.2 million in fines. No sentencing date has been set. The ringleader of the scam, former Army Corps contracting official Kerry Khan, has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing in July. In a statement, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ron Machen said 15 individuals have pleaded guilty in the investigation.
Mitch McConnell Hit With Ethics Complaint Over Leaked Ashley Judd Tape
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been hit with an ethics complaint after a leaked tape revealed he was discussing with aides how to take on potential opponent Ashley Judd.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has asked the Senate ethics committee and the FBI to investigate whether McConnell was having a discussion about potential Judd weaknesses -- including her mental health and religion -- on government time.“Using taxpayer-funded resources to pay staffers to dig up dirt on political opponents isn’t just an ethics violation, it’s a federal crime,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “As Sen. McConnell requested, the FBI is investigating the recording. A thorough and fair investigation necessitates the bureau also inquire into whether Sen. McConnell himself violated the law.”
April 02, 2013
Former Army Corps of Engineers Program Manager to be Sentenced for Contracting Scam
Former Army Corps of Engineers program manager Kerry Khan pleaded guilty in May 2012 to bribery and contract bid-rigging charges and will be sentenced this July.In all, Khan and his associates had illegally pocketed more than $30 million in kickbacks and bribes over almost five years. When authorities finally arrested Khan in October 2011, he had been planning an even bigger scheme to steer a nearly $1 billion federal contract.
Here is how Khan's operation generally worked: Contractors involved in the scheme submitted bogus invoices, which the Army Corps — with Khan’s help — paid out. In exchange, the money from those invoices went to payoffs and kickbacks through various businesses, records show. The kickback scheme involved a big Army Corps contract known as TIGER, for Technology for Infrastructure, Geospatial and Environmental Requirements. Until their arrests in fall 2011, Khan and others planned to steer another nearly $1 billion contract known as CORES, for Contingency Operations Readiness Engineering and Support, prosecutors said. During one of the early court hearings in the case, Michael Atkinson, an assistant U.S. attorney, said the operation centered on an informal holding company, which he called “Khan Incorporated.” “Of course, the public did not know that it was investing in Khan Incorporated, since the money that was used to fund Khan Incorporated was stolen,” he said. Among others who pleaded guilty were Khan’s brother, Nazim Khan, and son, Lee Khan.
March 25, 2013
Michele Bachmann Faces Congressional Ethics Probe
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) for alleged misuse of campaign funds, as first reported by the Daily Beast.
An OCE investigation is a preliminary probe; the office can either dismiss a case or recommend a full House Ethics Committee investigation. Peter Waldron, who served as Bachmann’s national field coordinator in the 2012 presidential race, has filed a Federal Election Commission complaint alleging that the lawmaker’s campaign improperly used leadership PAC funds to pay presidential campaign staff.
March 14, 2013
March Madness! Ethics Guidance
IEC member Paul Conrad shares the annual March Madness ethics guidance- thanks Paul!
The guidance may be found here Download March Madness 2013
February 15, 2013
Georgia Man Admits Taking Bribes to Allow $1 Million Theft of Government Equipment from Marine Base
A retired employee of the Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany (MCLB-Albany) pleaded guilty today to receiving bribes in exchange for allowing heavy equipment to be stolen from the base for resale.
Shelby C. Janes, 67, of Albany, Ga., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands in the Middle District of Georgia to one count of bribery of a public official.
During his guilty plea, Janes, the former civilian inventory control manager of the distribution management center at MCLB-Albany, admitted to participating in a scheme in which he assisted an individual, referred to in court documents as “Person A,” in stealing heavy equipment – such as cranes, bulldozers and front-end loaders – from the base. Person A, the owner of a commercial trucking business that was routinely contracted by the MCLB’s Defense Logistics Agency, then arranged to sell the equipment to private purchasers.At sentencing, Janes faces a maximum potential penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine of twice the gain or loss from the offense. As part of his plea agreement with the United States, Janes agreed to forfeit the bribe proceeds he received from the scheme, as well as to pay full restitution to the Department of Defense. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
November 14, 2012
Former Commander, U.S. Africa Command, to Retire at Lower Rank for Misuse of Gov't Funds
A DOD news release states General William E. Ward (O-10), former commander of U.S. Africa Command, should be retired at the grade of Lieutenant General (0-9) in light of substantiated claims he misused approximately $82,000 in government equipment and funds.
In June 2012, the Department of Defense Inspector General issued a report of investigation substantiating that Gen. Ward had engaged in numerous acts of misconduct related to misuse of government funds during his tenure as commander of U.S. Africa Command. Since departing U.S. Africa Command, by operation of law Gen. Ward reverted to the grade of Major General (0-8) and is currently serving as a special assistant to the Army vice chief of staff in that grade.
October 26, 2012
HHS Employee Sentenced for Misusing Government Charge Card
A Health and Human Services Department employee was sentenced by a federal judge this week to six months in prison for using government charge cards to buy more than $114,000 worth of personal items, according to a Justice Department release.Justice said Jihan S. Cover, a purchasing agent with the National Institute of Health and the National Cancer Institute from 2006 through 2011, used her government charge card to make hundreds of personal purchases totaling $114,494. She spent $16,000 on Amazon and $29,000 in payments to a variety of payday loan vendors, Justice said. She also made $47,000 in payments to personal accounts created on PayPal, the department said.
October 25, 2012
Nonprecedential Decision From U.S. Court of Appeals for Federal Circuit Affirms Removal of Navy Employee for Misuse of Gov't Travel Card
The Court's decision may be found at the following link:
Additional background of the case may also be found in the FedSmith article posted in April.
September 19, 2012
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Helicopter Used for Dance Invitation
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials are investigating claims that one of its helicopters was used to help a teenager invite a girl to homecoming.
While on a routine mission over northern Virginia last Wednesday, a CBP helicopter was allegedly used by a Department of Homeland Security employee to fly over his son’s high school and drop a stuffed animal with the invitation, NBCWashington.com reported.
September 04, 2012
House Ethics Committee Extends Investigation of New Jersey Congressman
The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it will take more time to review allegations that a congressman representing New Jersey misused campaign funds by spending them on personal expenses, including a family trip to Scotland and a high school graduation party for his daughter.
The committee also released a detailed report on the practices of Democratic U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews that it received in March from the Office of Congressional Ethics. That report found there is “substantial reason to believe” that Andrews inappropriately used campaign funds to take his family to Scotland for a wedding, to make multiple trips to California and for a party held in honor of the high school graduation of one of his daughters and the 20th anniversary of his congressional service. All were in 2011.
As it released the report, the Ethics Committee said it does not indicate that there was a violation.
April 16, 2012
More fall out from GSA conference scandal
Here are some additional articles relaying more information on the GSA conference scandal:
- AP reports on 4 Congressional hearings due this week. http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_289563/contentdetail.htm?full=true&contentguid=dcT0ukeB&detailindex=#display
- GovExec reports on emails which show organization was unsure whether to give official bonus or reprimand for lavish conference: http://www.govexec.com//oversight/2012/04/gsa-leaders-disagreed-reprimand-lavish-conference-lawmakers-say/41770/
- FedTimes reports that GSA IG referred the matter to Justice for consideration of criminal charges (likely in procurement area). http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20120413/DEPARTMENTS07/204130302/1001
March 31, 2012
Removal for misuse of Govt Credit Card sustained
In a non-precedential decision, the Federal Circuit sustained the MSPB's decision sustaining removal for misconduct--misuse of a govt credit card. The case, which included remand for procedural issues, includes creative arguments from pro se appellant about not receiving sufficient training on use of the card. See full decision at: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/images/stories/opinions-orders/11-3229.pdf
February 13, 2012
Ethics Related News
- A former IRS employee used his knowledge of the IRS for personal gain, and received a 9 year sentence as well as an order to repay $30,649. Read the DOJ press release at http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/February/12-tax-193.html
- US Postal Service defense its use of official travel. See GovExec article: http://www.govexec.com/oversight/2012/02/postal-regulator-defends-travel-records-after-senator-demands-details/41162/
January 25, 2012
Former CIA employee indicted for disclosing classified information
"A former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, was charged today with repeatedly disclosing classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities, Justice Department officials announced." See the full DOJ press release at: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/January/12-ag-083.html.