Monday, July 15, 2019

Hiring Government Employees as Part-Time Consultants - There May Be Prohibitions

Government contractors need to be careful about who they hire and Government employees need to be discerning about the companies from whom they take part-time employment.

In a recent Justice Department press release, a "former" employee of the Army Corps of Engineers pled guilty to lying to law enforcement agents. What did she lie about? She lied about her part-time employment from Army contractors who she had oversight responsibilities as a Government employee.

Ms Sellers was a civilian employee of the Army Corps of Engineers. She was a biologist who's duties included coordinating and advising on environmental issues related to Army Corps projects. Part of her responsibilities included reviewing products from environmental consulting companies.

Federal ethics laws and regulations prohibit federal employees from engaging in outside employment that conflicts with employees' official duties. For about five years, while employed with the Army Corps, Sellers engaged in outside employment with a consulting company despite being part of a team that oversaw that company's work for the Corps. Ms Sellers used her personal non-Government email account to share sensitive, internal draft Government documents that she received in her official capacity with her part-time employer. She also used her personal email accout to participate in private email conversations with employees of the company and used her personal email and social media accounts to assist the company in contract negotiations.

Ms Sellers kept this part-time employment a secret from colleagues and management and tried to keep it a secret from investigators. Earlier this year, Ms Sellers falsely and willfully misled federal agents about her outside involvement with the consulting company. Where the federal agents got the information in the first place is not part of the publicly available documents. What is interesting to note however is that investigators seemed to have real time access to her private email because right after the interview where she lied to investigators, the investigators discovered another email she sent to the contractors stating "I can't do any of this work for you. I am on admin  leave from usace. Conflict of interest. May be fired."

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