Congress should close a loophole that allowed an ex-senior official at the National Weather Service to be hired as a contractor at higher pay and benefits a day after he retired from the agency. The larger question is whether the practice is widespread throughout the federal bureaucracy.
When the Commerce Department’s inspector general looked into a complaint that a senior official of the NWS had worked out a lucrative contract for himself upon retirement, he was told that it goes on all the time.
Commerce Department IG Todd Zinser found that a senior National Weather Service official planning retirement was asked by superiors to create a contract for himself to return to the agency as a consultant. The contract was a doozy that increased his pay by nearly a third plus expenses and a $50,000 housing supplement. By the time the IG completed his investigation, that contract had cost the government $471,875.
“I was told, this is [the] way it can be done,” former NWS chief financial officer Robert Byrd said in testimony revealed at a recent congressional hearing. It should be a major concern, if conflict-of-interest laws can be waived by a senior administrator.
And what about federal regulations that prohibit senior public servants from working with their former agencies for a year after joining the private sector?
The inspector general has discovered quite a loophole, and Congress should determine the extent to which conflict-of-interest restrictions are being bypassed to rehire departing public officials as private consultants.
Because such sweetheart deals happen deep in the weeds of the bureaucracy, Congress might have to depend, like the Commerce IG, on whistleblowers to bring them to the surface at other agencies.
But why wait for that? Congress should act to close any legal loopholes that allow such self-serving arrangements. Close the revolving door as the law intends, and do so throughout the federal government.