Special Government Employee Report Released, Outlines Problems Managing Designation
In June 2013, Sen. Chuck Grassley began seeking answers from the State Department on its use of the Special Government Employee designation. His questions came after revelations that a top aide, Huma Abedin, used the special status to work at the State Department and private sector entities at the same time. It appears the Special Government Employee status granted to Abedin was unusual and distinct from how agencies generally use the designation, which is for technical outside expertise rather than for a current government employee’s convenience or desire for outside employment (Abedin cited spending time in New York with her family as the reason for having that status). Grassley wrote numerous letters to the State Department on these concerns and other related matters such as potential conflicts of interest between Abedin’s State Department work and her simultaneous work at the Clinton Foundation and Teneo. The State Department was largely unresponsive until after he announced his intention to place a hold on an agency nominee. Even then, and after he released the hold, the agency still did not answer all of his questions and still has failed to respond to many important questions to date, with some requests dating back to June 2013.
Grassley asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the Special Government Employee designation to see whether it works as intended to serve taxpayers. The GAO studied five agencies: the Justice Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the State Department, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Science Foundation. Grassley made the following comment on the report.
“The report shows government agencies are having trouble determining who should be given this designation and what’s needed to process the designation. The GAO also found that agencies have weak internal coordination in determining which employees are SGEs. Paperwork and reporting to the Office of Government Ethics are inconsistent. This is worrisome because if the government isn’t properly tracking who has the designation, it may not be looking at whether anyone has a conflict of interest with government service and a private sector job.
“Also, the Special Government Employment designation by law cannot extend beyond 130 days. However, the executive branch routinely breaches that requirement and lets people serve longer in that capacity. For example, Ms. Abedin served significantly more than 130 days. It’s a problem when Special Government Employees serve longer than the law provides. Congress specified a time restriction for a reason. Special Government Employees are supposed to temporarily offer specialized expertise that the taxpayers can’t get anywhere else. The time restriction makes clear that they’re not supposed to be paid indefinitely while working for the private sector at the same time. The executive branch should not do an end run around Congress and ignore the time restriction or use the designation merely to allow current federal employees to enhance their income with outside employment that might present conflicts of interest. I am looking into legislation that reinforces the 130-day designation and makes crystal clear that Special Government Employees should be limited to temporary positions for those with specialized expertise outside government.”