Commerce watchdog probe finds such ‘revolving door’ contracts may be common.
In a maneuver some would call “writing your own ticket,” a top National Weather Service executive announced his retirement and then set himself up to perform the same work as a consultant, raising his pay by $43,000, according to the Commerce Department inspector general.
Before his contract was terminated in 2012, the official also collected a $50,000 housing allowance and allegedly pressed for the agency to hire a relative, according to a summary of the investigation. The total cost to the government: $471,875.34.
The Commerce IG did not name the “senior official,” but The Washington Post recently identified him as former deputy chief financial officer P. Donald Jiron. His lawyer, Matthew Kaiser, said, “Mr. Jiron has not done anything wrong” because he acted “at the direction of and with the approval of his supervisor at all times.”
Citing a “possible violation of criminal law,” the inspector general is seeking the suspension and debarment of the official from any future contracting work. And “because the evidence indicates an apparent lack of understanding about applicable laws and regulations on the part of multiple agency officials beyond senior official himself – the OIG is also taking steps to ascertain whether this matter is indicative of more systemic ‘revolving door’ contracting problems within” the Weather Service’s parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the report summary said.
The investigation, which was prompted by three anonymous complaints received in January 2012, found that Jiron, while still an NWS employee, “drafted and edited the applicable statement of work for his post-retirement consulting position; participated with NWS officials in setting what labor category and rates would be used to pay for his consulting services; and signed the task management plan that created the consulting position he would take upon his retirement on behalf of the contractor that would be employing him.”
The housing allowance he claimed is intended for NOAA senior executives who visit the Silver Spring, Md., headquarters on temporary assignments.
“Although [the] senior official denied acting inappropriately in seeking employment for his family member, we found that the overwhelming weight of evidence, including his own emails and consistent and credible testimony from other witnesses, contradicted [the] senior official’s version of events,” the IG wrote.
Together the actions involved potential violations of “numerous federal laws and regulations, including the criminal conflict-of-interest statute found in 18 U.S.C. § 208” and bribery laws, the summary said. Though the IG referred the matter for prosecution, prosecutors declined to pursue charges.
“The investigation also established that several other NWS officials share responsibility for the situation that took place,” the IG concluded, agreeing with the attorney’s position that the evidence indicates Jiron acted with approval of his supervisors, including “NOAA officials with responsibility for ensuring integrity in government contracting.”
(Image via Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com)