Coast Guard officials need ethics guidance post separation, GAO says
More than half of the high-ranking Coast Guard officials who left the service in recent years performed work for Coast Guard contractors, according to a new federal report.
While those employees appear to have complied with all federal restrictions and ethics rules, the Coast Guard ought to do more training to ensure that all its senior executives are fully aware of what actions are, and are not, permitted in performing work for contractors, the Government Accountability Office concluded in its Dec. 15 report.
The congressional watchdog agency examined post-separation employment of former admirals and senior executive service members who left the Coast Guard from 2005 to 2009. Those executives were required to comply with several federal laws and ethics rules regarding their post-separation work.
For example, under the Procurement Integrity Act, certain former government officials may not accept compensation from a contractor for one year if the official served in certain positions or handled contracts exceeding $10 million.
Of the 40 former high-level officials reviewed, 22 were compensated by Coast Guard contractors, the GAO said.
Twelve of the former officials received payments in 2010 by contractors that received at least $10 million in Coast Guard contracts that year.
One of the former officials was assigned to work on a Coast Guard program for which the individual previously had official responsibility. However, the individual was permitted to do so under a Coast Guard ethics opinion.
Overall, the former officials under review appeared to be complying with appropriate rules, the GAO concluded. “Based on the information provided on official roles and responsibilities, we did not find any evidence these former officials represented themselves to the government in violation of post-government employment restrictions,” the report said.
Nonetheless, there are possible gaps in how the Coast Guard informs its executives about the restrictions and ethics rules, the watchdog agency said.
While a number of voluntary practices are in place to ensure compliance, those practices may not be sufficient.
“The practices are not designed to ensure these officials are fully aware of the restrictions before negotiating with potential employers or separating from the government,” the report said. “Training on the topic is only mandatory for new employees and both counseling and ethics opinions are optional. “
The GAO made a recommendation to require its ethics officials to provide guidance to all high-ranking officials, at a minimum, on what restrictions they would face if and when they transition out of the Coast guard. Agency officials agreed with the recommendation.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.