Department of Commerce officials refuse to reveal the name or salary of one of President Barack Obama’s political appointees who wasted tens of thousands of tax dollars on swanky overseas hotels, limousines and office renovations.
The department’s Inspector General (IG) released a detailed 45-page report earlier this month on the official’s taxpayer-funded lavish lifestyle. The IG failed to name him or recommend criminal prosecution to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The Washington Post identified the appointee as Stefan Selig, former undersecretary for international trade.
He was appointed in 2013 and left the agency in June 2016 before the IG completed its investigation, according to the Post. (RELATED: Obama Political Appointee ‘Burrows’ Into Permanent Job At VA)
A department spokesman who asked for anonymity refused to confirm Selig’s name or salary, citing the Privacy Act, despite the fact such information is published in multiple places. The Asbury Park Press (NJ) federal salary database lists Selig’s salary as $165,000.
An IG spokesman who also demanded anonymity said Selig’s name was kept out of the report to protect employees still working at the Commerce Department.
Nonprofit government watchdog Cause of Action Institute filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the IG for additional information on the appointee’s behavior and an explanation of why the Commerce Department allowed it to continue for several years.
Selig spent $1,150 per night at a luxury hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, and $1,800 on SUV rides for a two-day trip to Boston, among other expenditures that exceeded travel cost limits.
The IG decided the political appointee’s $50,000 office renovation — far exceeding the $5,000 federal law allots political appointees for office changes — did not warrant a criminal referral under the Anti-Deficiency Act (ADA). The ADA, the only potential violation the IG considered, prohibits federal employees from spending tax funds in excess of amounts authorized by Congress.
“The OIG determined that the evidence fell short of requiring a referral for a criminal violation of the ADA,” the IG spokesman said.
The IG told the department to decide whether an ADA violation had occurred, and the department spokesman said the review is underway. He offered no timetable for the review’s completion.
“The IG’s report noted that the political appointee indicated he was willing to pay for any portion of his travel expenses that was not legitimately reimbursable under government regulations, policy, and the rules,” the department spokesman said.
“The department is reviewing the IG’s findings to determine if additional reimbursements are required, and will seek any reimbursements owed,” the spokesman continued. “The department has already taken steps to strengthen internal controls related to the travel approval process, and we are studying all of the recommendations made in the IG report to determine what further action may be warranted.”
The IG recommended the department improve training so employees will know what travel guidelines and improper expenditures are, but multiple laws and regulations are already in place to prevent spending abuses.
It’s unclear why Selig’s abuses continued for nearly three years before he left; even department officials claim his travel habits were addressed during his first year at the department. The IG didn’t begin investigating the case until receiving a confidential tip in 2015, after Selig had been in office two years.
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