A new report from the Government Accountability Office that looked into the use of the Special Government Employee designation in five government agencies details a number of disturbing facts.
After reviewing the SGE designation and its use in the Justice Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the State Department, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Science Foundation, the GAO found government agencies are having trouble determining who should be given the designation and how it should even be processed. It also found "weak internal coordination" in determining which employees were SGEs.
"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," Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who requested the study, said after reading the report.
Grassley began asking about the SGE designation in 2013 after it was revealed that long-time Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin had used the status to work simultaneously for the State Department, the Clinton Foundation, and Teneo Holdings. He said the GAO report found her SGE designation was "unusual and distinct from how agencies generally use the designation."
When Abedin officially left employment as Clinton's deputy chief of staff, she cited a desire to spend more time in New York with her family following the birth of her son. However, she almost immediately resumed government employment alongside her outside employment with the Clinton Foundation and Teneo.
Grassley wrote numerous letters to the State Department regarding his concerns. He also placed a hold on a State Department appointment to put pressure on the department, but even still, not all of his questions on the matter have been answered.
His questions became the basis for Judicial Watch to make a Freedom of Information Act demand for documentation, which eventually led to the discovery of Clinton's private email server. He said the latest revelations in the GAO report show the laws relating to the SGE status are regularly breached by the Executive Branch for reasons that may create additional conflicts of interest within government.
"[T]he 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," he said. "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."
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