Communication of Post-Government Employment Restriction Can Be Strengthened
GAO-12-174: Published: Dec 15, 2011. Publicly Released: Dec 15, 2011.
What GAO Found
Of the 40 former high-ranking Coast Guard officials (Admirals or Senior Executive Service members) who separated from the Coast Guard from 2005 through 2009, 22 have been compensated by Coast Guard contractors. Twelve of these officials were compensated in 2010 by major Coast Guard contractorscontractors that received at least $10 million in Coast Guard contracts in 2010. One of the 12 officials was assigned by a major Coast Guard contractor to work on a program for which the individual previously had official responsibility. According to a Coast Guard ethics opinion, this individual was permitted to work for the contractor. Coast Guard and contractor documentation does not specifically indicate whether any of the other 11 officials were assigned to work on programs for which they previously had official responsibility. 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 Coast Guard and contractors employ a variety of practices to help ensure compliance with post-government employment restrictions. The Coast Guard provides training, counseling, and ethics opinions to inform high-ranking officials of post-government employment restrictions. However, 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. Training on the topic is only mandatory for new employees and both counseling and ethics opinions are optional. Most major Coast Guard contractors GAO interviewed described a variety of voluntary practices in useincluding guidance on restrictions, controls during the hiring process, training, and monitoring mechanismsto help ensure compliance with post-government employment restrictions.
Why GAO did this Study
The Coast Guard has over $27 billion in acquisitions with hundreds of millions of dollars going to major contractors each year. High-ranking officials leave the Coast Guard each year and may go to work for these contractors. To avoid conflicts of interest and promote public trust, these officials must comply with restrictions on their post-government employment activities. These restrictions do not necessarily prohibit them from working for a contractor. In response to the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010, which directed GAO to examine Coast Guard contractor compensation of former high-ranking officials, GAO identified (1) the extent such former officials were compensated by Coast Guard contractors and assigned to programs for which they previously had official responsibility, and (2) Coast Guard and contractor practices to help ensure compliance with post-government employment restrictions. GAO analyzed Coast Guard, contractor, and Internal Revenue Service data on former officials, and interviewed officials from the Coast Guard and 11 major contractors representing over 40 percent of Coast Guard obligations in calendar year 2010 to identify practices used regarding these restrictions.
Recommendation for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: On January 9, 2012, the Coast Guard's Judge Advocate General issued a memorandum to the Coast Guard's ethics attorney directing that the ethics attorney provide guidance on restrictions to all admirals and members of the Senior Executive Service (SES), at a minimum, as the officials enter into those senior positions and as they transition out of Coast Guard service.
Recommendation: In order to help ensure high-ranking officials receive timely and relevant information on post-government employment restrictions, the Commandant of the Coast Guard require Coast Guard ethics officials to provide guidance on restrictions to all admirals and members of the Senior Executive Service (SES), at a minimum, as the officials enter into those senior positions and as they transition out of Coast Guard service.
Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Coast Guard