March 31, 2016 —
The objectives of our project are aligned with the House Report 114-102 to accompany H.R. 1735, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2016, which directed the DoD IG to submit a report by December 31, 2015 (subsequently extended to March 31, 2016) to the congressional defense committees with the following information:
- The findings of any previous IG reviews to assess whether written opinions are being provided and retained in accordance with Section 847 (provided in Part I of this report).
- A review of the written ethics opinions that have been requested and provided pursuant to Section 847 and a determination as to whether they comply with Section 847 (provided in Part II of this report).
- A summary, by Department of Defense organization, of the total number of opinions issued and total number of opinions retained pursuant to Section 847 (provided in Part III of this report).
- A summary of any referrals to, and complaints received by, the IG or the Department of Justice regarding potential violations of post-employment restrictions, including the final disposition of such cases (provided in Part IV of this report).
- The status of any pre-2012 records established pursuant to Section 847 of Public Law 110-181 (provided in Part V of this report).
- Any other matters the IG deems relevant to a comprehensive assessment of compliance with Section 847 (provided in Part VI of this report, which includes Findings, Discussions, and Recommendations).
We identified two findings. First, not all DoD organizations and subordinate organizations and their agency ethics officials complied with the Deputy Secretary of Defense (DEPSECDEF) Memorandum of September 19, 2011, and Army Office of General Council (OGC) guidance on issuing Section 847 opinion letters and processing the necessary documents in the After Government Employment Advice Repository (AGEAR) system. Specific issues were:
- Some ethics officials received and processed requests for Section 847 opinion letters outside the AGEAR system after January 1, 2012.
- Some ethics officials did not upload all the request information into the AGEAR system along with the opinion letters.
- Some ethics officials did not enter all the various critical dates accurately in the Audit Trail for requests received and processed outside the AGEAR.
- Some ethics officials issued Section 847 opinion letters to requestors even though the requestor did not provide a copy of an offer of employment or a description of future duties from a Defense contractor.
- Some ethics officials issued nonspecific post-Government employment guidance as a Section 847 opinion letter instead of an opinion letter tailored to the requestor’s prospective future duties with the Defense contractor.
This occurred because Section 847 request processing procedures differ among agencies and ethics officials. Furthermore, the AGEAR system is not capable of ensuring the accuracy and completeness of the material submitted by ethics officials.
As a result, the AGEAR database was unreliable, was missing opinion letters and associated opinion request information, and contained nonqualifying opinion letters. Because of the unreliability of the data, the DoD IG team was unable to generate reliable quantitative information requested in the House Report 114-102 and to independently verify compliance with the 30-day clock for some of the requests that were received and processed outside the AGEAR. Additionally, we found that the dates recorded in the “request submittal date” field of the Audit Trail for all 49 non-AGEAR processed opinion letters in our statistical sample were actually the opinion upload dates. For most of them, the request submittal date was incorrect. This happened because the AGEAR software program erroneously recorded the real-time stamp of the upload date and time as the request submittal date. As a result, we believe that the Audit Trail request submittal date for all non-AGEAR-processed opinion letters may be unreliable.
We recommend that the Deputy Secretary of Defense:
- mandate the use of the online AGEAR system by all covered officials submitting requests for a Section 847 opinion letter and prohibit accepting requests or processing requests by ethics officials outside the AGEAR system, and
- take steps to enforce other Section 847 requirements and SOCO guidance either directly or through direction to the Service and agency heads.
We also recommend that the SOCO and the AGEAR administrator:
- change the case status to “rejected” for those requests where the requestor is not eligible to receive the Section 847 opinion letters;
- develop quality control procedures to ensure that all the critical dates are accurately entered in the Audit Trail by the ethics officials when processing requests for Section 847 opinion letters;
- require ethics officials to provide, in the AGEAR Audit Trail, documentation of all activities between the request submittal date and opinion in progress date to justify any delay in starting the 30-day clock; and
- correct the Audit Trail for all past non-AGEAR opinion letters by relabeling the “request submittal date” field to “opinion upload date” and ensure that Audit Trails for any future non-AGEAR opinion letters are properly labeled.
Management Comments and Our Response
Separate comments from the General Counsel of the Department of Defense, on behalf of the Deputy Secretary of Defense; from the Office of General Counsel for the Director, Department of Defense Standards of Conduct Office; and from the Deputy General Counsel for the Army Office of General Counsel addressed all specifics of the recommendations and no further comments are required.