A year after she retired from the agency she led for 15 years, the director of the Homeland Security Department’s law enforcement training center was found to have overspent on airfare and rental vehicles while ignoring agency rules for travel planning.
Connie Patrick, who headed the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers facility in Glynco, Ga., was also found to have been insensitive toward anti-nepotism policies during the hiring of her husband to an agency institute, according to a long-awaited report released last week by the DHS inspector general’s office.
“Some of FLETC’s senior managers, including former Director Connie Patrick, failed to exercise the judgment, stewardship and leadership expected of DHS senior officials,” the IG wrote of a probe triggered by multiple complaints.
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Twenty of 38 domestic trips Patrick booked from Jan. 15, 2014, through June 23, 2016, at a cost of $63,000, had approved expenses that exceeded the rates set by the General Services Administration by 300 percent, the IG wrote. The actual expenses for the other 18 trips topped authorized rates by 150 percent.
Internationally, her six trips costing about $77,000 included one business-class flight to Sydney, Australia, in January 2014 that did not comply with policies set by GSA, DHS and her own FLETC, the IG said. The 14-hour flight cost $14,000, as opposed to $3,300 for the usual government rate. Her invoking of the exception that exists for long flights with tight schedules was not justified, auditors determined, because her schedule shows she had nearly two full work days between her arrival and her first work event. In addition, Patrick failed to request the required pre-approval for her business-class travel from the DHS undersecretary for management.
In addition, Patrick frequently rented intermediate, sport utility or full-size vehicles without the required justifications, incurring rental car fees in excess of $3,000, the report found.
“The issues raised above demonstrate poor judgment and a failure on the part of senior FLETC leaders to ensure compliance with department policies and procedures,” acting IG John Kelly wrote to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and FLETC Director Thomas Walters. “They also demonstrate a lack of sensitivity to the impact such decisions and actions may have had on other FLETC employees who, without full knowledge of the circumstances, came to believe that FLETC’s senior management had run amuck and the agency was being seriously mismanaged.”
Patrick was also faulted for claiming to have recused herself from the decision to hire her husband, John Patrick, for a term position at the FLETC Law Enforcement Leadership Institute, where he served from Jan. 3, 2010, to Sept. 11, 2011.
“While DHS OIG did not develop evidence demonstrating that Patrick actively attempted to influence the process that resulted in her husband being hired,” the investigators wrote, “her position as director of FLETC may have impacted the FLETC employees tasked with the decision whether to hire her husband. The pressure an employee may feel to hire or advance an agency head’s relative exists whether or not the agency head has technically recused himself or herself from the process.”
Patrick’s travel expenses before she retired last June for reasons the department said were unrelated had drawn scrutiny from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, then under the chairmanship of since-retired Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
The perceptions of misconduct raised by Patrick’s actions “contributed to low morale, mistrust, infighting, and political maneuvering that detracted from FLETC’s mission,” the IG concluded.
It recommended that FLETC and DHS implement better controls and internal tools to assure compliance with travel rules, including use of a centralized online travel arrangements system. Auditors also recommended that the agencies develop a more detailed nepotism policy and better train employees in compliance.
DHS agreed with all recommendations, and the IG promised to continue monitoring FLETC’s compliance as new leaders take over.