Senior Energy Official Convinces Colleagues to Hire His Three Children

By Eric Katz

June 11, 2013

A senior official at the Energy Department successfully lobbied colleagues at the agency to hire his three children for summer internships, despite strict rules against nepotism in the federal government, according to an internal audit.

Energy’s inspector general found an employee in the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office contacted 12 department employees -- including one high-ranking human capital official -- to encourage the hiring of his three children. In one instance, the official convinced an office to reverse its decision to go without interns and instead take on one of his children.

The employee -- whom the IG report did not name -- contacted the Office of the Chief Information Officer and followed up “a number of times” before the office ultimately “decided to reverse its previously announced decision” to forgo interns for the summer, the report said.

The other two children worked in the same renewable energy office as their father. All three were hired as part of the Student Temporary Employment Program, or STEP.

The federal government has several statutes related to nepotism, including a rule that a “public official may not appoint, employ or advocate for the appointment or employment of a relative in the agency in which the public official is serving.” Additionally, federal employees may not use their public role for a relative’s “private gain” or “financial interest.” The inspector general found the official to be in violation of these rules.

“Nepotism or even its appearance can have a decidedly negative impact on morale within an organization,” the IG wrote. “As is readily apparent, providing inappropriate advantages for relatives of federal employees damages the integrity of the competitive process and erodes public trust in the federal hiring process.”

When speaking to the investigators, the official said he had not done anything wrong and that providing resumes on behalf of relatives for STEP positions was common. The two Energy employees who hired the official’s children said they did not “feel pressured” by the official’s pursuit.

The official also told the auditors he had only spoken with four colleagues about positions for his children, but an examination of his emails showed it was actually 12 employees from seven programs.

Overall, the Energy Department received more than 750 applications for STEP positions for the 2012 summer, according to the report. It hired just 27, meaning one official’s children accounted for more than 10 percent of all STEP hires.

Energy’s general council, as well as the chief human capital officer, is conducting a review of the inspector general’s report and their findings will lead to “appropriate corrective actions,” said David Danielson, the assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy.  The department has already sent a memo to all employees explaining the various nepotism statutes and will place an increased emphasis on the subject in annual ethics training.

The cases of nepotism were not limited to just one official. In the course of the investigation, the inspector general’s office found a member of its own team had “communicated with department officials” regarding employment for his child.

“We consider this matter to be serious,” the IG wrote. “Administrative action is in process.” 

By Eric Katz

June 11, 2013