oversight

Senior Political DOI Employee did not Comply with the Federal Ethics Pledge

Published by the Department of the Interior, Office of Inspector General on 2021-07-20.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                                                                INVESTIGATION




                OFFICE OF
                INSPECTOR GENERAL
                U.S.DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR




   Senior Political DOI Employee Did
   Not Comply With the Federal
   Ethics Pledge




       This is a revised version of the report prepared for public release.




Report Number: 20-0041
                 -                          Date Posted on Web: July 20, 2021
I.        EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
We investigated an allegation that a senior political employee of the U.S. Department of the
Interior (DOI) did not comply with the Federal ethics pledge under Executive Order No. 13770.
In particular, we examined allegations that the senior employee improperly met with a
representative from a former employer during the ethics pledge’s 2-year recusal period. The
senior political employee left the DOI in early 2021.

We found that the senior political employee did not comply with paragraph 6 of the ethics pledge
by attending an in-person meeting with representatives from the former employer and another
DOI official and discussing departmental matters during the 2-year recusal period.

We are providing this report to the Chief of Staff for the Office of the Secretary for any action
deemed appropriate.

II.       RESULTS OF INVESTIGATION
In 2017, the senior political employee signed the Federal ethics pledge, which prohibited them
from participating in “any particular matter involving specific parties that [was] directly and
substantially related to [their] former employer” for 2 years following appointment to the Federal
position. In early 2019, we received a complaint alleging that the senior employee had met with a
representative from a former employer during that 2-year recusal period.

A. Facts

1. The Senior Political Employee’s Former Employment, Appointment at the DOI, and Federal
   Ethics Training

The senior political employee worked at the organization that was a former employer until 2016
and then started employment at the DOI in early 2017. The senior employee received ethics
training from the Departmental Ethics Office (DEO) shortly after starting at the DOI, which
included information regarding the restrictions limiting Federal employees’ contact with their
former employers. The senior employee signed the Federal ethics pledge in the spring of 2017.

2. The Senior Political Employee Met With Representatives From a Former Employer in the
   Summer of 2017

In the summer of 2017, an assistant in the senior political employee’s office (Assistant 1) sent
emails to multiple organizations, including the employee’s former employer, that had signed a
2017 letter of support to President Donald J. Trump. The emails invited the various organizations
to meet with the senior political employee and Assistant 1. 1



1 Assistant 1 left the DOI in the summer of 2019. We attempted to interview Assistant 1 after they left the DOI to learn more

about their role in setting up the meeting with the organization, but Assistant 1 declined to participate in a voluntary interview.
As a former employee, we could not compel an interview.



                                                                  1
Shortly after receiving the email, a representative from the senior political employee’s former
employer (Representative 1) responded and copied the senior employee, thanking Assistant 1
for reaching out and expressing interest in meeting with the senior political employee and
Assistant 1 to discuss partnering on shared priorities.

Later that day, the senior political employee forwarded Representative 1’s email to a program
assistant in the senior political employee’s office (Assistant 2) asking whether they could be
worked into the schedule and specifically asking to include Assistant 1, and Assistant 2
responded that they would. The senior political employee’s official DOI calendar indicated that
the senior employee, Representative 1, and Assistant 1 met at a Federal building in the summer
of 2017 to discuss partnering on shared priorities.

A few days after the meeting, Representative 1 emailed the senior political employee and
Assistant 1, copying a second representative from the senior employee’s former employer
(Representative 2), expressing thanks for the meeting earlier that week and stating that it was
good to learn about their upcoming priorities. Representative 1 stated that they would follow up
shortly with more State-based activities that supported the senior political employee and
Assistant 1’s efforts related to a specific Federal site.

Later that day, Representative 2 emailed the senior political employee, Assistant 1, and
Representative 1, stating that they also enjoyed talking with them and expressing thanks for the
tour of the Federal building.

That same day, Assistant 1 responded to Representatives 1 and 2 via email, copying the senior
political employee, and stating that they would be happy to collaborate with them and their
organization moving forward.

When we spoke to Representative 1 in the spring of 2019, we were told that this person met the
senior political employee for the first and only time during the meeting at the Federal building in
the summer of 2017. Representative 1 stated that the meeting was so long ago that this person
did not remember what they talked about.

Also in the spring of 2019, Representative 2 told us that Representative 1 invited Representative
2 to the meeting because Representative 2 worked on State policy issues. To Representative 2’s
recollection, they mostly just walked around the Federal building and did not discuss any
specific policies.

3. The Senior Political Employee Told the DEO and the OIG That They Did Not Recall Meeting
   With the Former Employer

We interviewed an individual who served as a senior DEO official at the time of the alleged
misconduct. The senior DEO official spoke to the senior political employee about the allegation
in the complaint shortly after it was filed. According to the memorandum the senior DEO official
prepared after meeting with the senior employee, the senior employee told the senior DEO
official that they did not have a call or meeting with the organization and had no contact with the
organization since they started working at the DOI.



                                                 2
In the spring of 2019 and in early 2020, we interviewed the senior political employee about the
allegations that they met with Representatives 1 and 2 during the recusal period. The senior
political employee maintained throughout both interviews that they did not recall meeting with
the representatives.

B. Analysis

As a threshold matter, we determined that the senior political employee met with Representatives
1 and 2 in the summer of 2017. Despite the senior employee’s statements that the senior
employee did not remember meeting with the representatives, the senior employee’s official
calendar, emails, and witness testimony established the senior employee’s attendance at an in-
person meeting with the representatives at a Federal building in the summer of 2017. Because the
senior political employee was appointed in 2017, this meeting occurred within the 2-year recusal
period under paragraph 6 of the ethics pledge under Executive Order No. 13770.

Paragraph 6 of the ethics pledge states:

          I will not for a period of 2 years after the date of my appointment participate in any
          particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to
          my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.2

Office of Government Ethics (OGE) memorandum DO-09-011, Ethics Pledge: Revolving Door
Ban—All Appointees Entering Government (issued March 26, 2009), states that the ethics pledge
itself expands the scope of the phrase “particular matter involving specific parties” to include
“any meeting or other communication with a former employer or former client relating to the
performance of the appointee’s official duties, unless the communication applies to a particular
matter of general applicability and participation in the meeting or other event is open to all
interested parties.” The OGE memorandum further states that meetings need not “be open to
every comer, but should include a multiplicity of parties.” The memorandum continues,
“The purpose of this expansion of the traditional definition is to address concerns that former
employers and clients may appear to have privileged access, which they may exploit to influence
an appointee out of the public view.”

Taken together, this authority establishes that the ethics pledge prohibits any meeting or other
communication with a former employer relating to the appointee’s official duties unless the
communication is (1) about a particular matter of general applicability and (2) made at a meeting
or other event at which participation is open to all interested parties or includes a multiplicity of
parties.



2 Executive Order No. 13770 states a “former employer is any person for whom the appointee has within the 2 years prior to the

date of his or her appointment served as an employee, officer, director, trustee, or general partner, except that ‘former employer’
does not include any executive agency or other entity of the Federal Government, State or local government, the District of
Columbia, Native American tribe, or any United States territory or possession.” Retrieved from
https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/02/03/2017-02450/ethics-commitments-by-executive-branch-appointees (last
visited April 28, 2021).




                                                                 3
In this case, the evidence established that the senior political employee met with representatives
of the senior employee’s former employer in the summer of 2017, which was within 2 years of
the date of the senior employee’s appointment. The evidence also showed that the meeting was
related to the senior employee’s official duties, as it was to discuss partnering on shared priorities
and referenced the DOI’s desire to collaborate with the organization moving forward on efforts
pertaining to a Federal site. Pursuant to the ethics pledge and OGE guidance, such a meeting
would be permissible only if it involved a particular matter of general applicability and was open
to “a multiplicity of parties.” Here, however, the meeting was not open to a “multiplicity of
parties” because it involved only DOI officials and representatives of the senior political
employee’s former employer; no evidence suggested that others attended. Accordingly, the
senior political employee’s meeting with the former employer in the summer of 2017 was
prohibited under paragraph 6 of the ethics pledge.

III.   SUBJECT
A senior political DOI employee.

IV.    DISPOSITION
We are providing this report to the Chief of Staff for the Office of the Secretary for any action
deemed appropriate.




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