Politics

Obama Agriculture Secretary’s Hasty Departure Raises Ethics Issues

REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor

A nonprofit government watchdog group launched an investigation Wednesday to determine whether recently-resigned Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary and Iowa’s former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack violated federal ethics law.

Vilsack resigned on Jan. 13 and news reports showed he was expected to become the U.S. Dairy Export Council’s president and CEO. He took that role just four days later. (RELATED: Obama’s Agriculture Secretary Gets Dairy Export Job Before His Term Is Over)

“Secretary Vilsack’s abrupt departure one week before his term ends raises questions about its timing,” Cause of Action Institute Assistant Vice President Henry Kerner said in a statement. “Given the cavalier attitude and unprecedented record of Hatch Act violations we’ve seen from other Obama administration officials, we are investigating whether Secretary Vilsack complied with the law when he negotiated his new job.”

“To avoid conflicts of interest, cabinet officials are required to notify their agencies’ ethics department when they negotiate future private sector employment,” he said. (RELATED: Agriculture Secretary First Of Obama’s Cabinet To Leave Town)

Consequently, Cause of Action Institute filed a Freedom of Information Act request for any notifications USDA sent to the agency’s Office of Ethics or Office of the General Counsel regarding Vilsack’s negotiations with the U.S. Dairy Export Council or his requests for recusal.

The request cited the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012, which requires executive branch officials to notify ethics offices within three business days of beginning negotiations for future employment. The employee must also recuse himself from any government matters that could create a conflict of interest as a result of the negations.

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