Obama-Era Appointee Likely Breached Ethics Laws With $650 Million Grant

REUTERS/Carlos Barria.

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A non-profit government watchdog group is investigating whether an Obama administration-era appointee violated federal conflict-of-interest laws by taking a job with a company soon after awarding a nearly $650 million taxpayer-funded grant to a related project.

Acting Federal Transit Administration (FTA) chief Carolyn Flowers approved a $647 million grant to the Caltrain commuter system on Jan. 18, then took a job with AECOM – an engineering firm closely connected with Caltrain – less than two weeks later. (RELATED: Obama Agriculture Secretary’s Hasty Departure Raises Ethics Issues)

“Given the substantial amount of money involved in the contract, it is important to make sure that Acting Secretary Flowers likewise abided by all applicable conflict of interest requirements,” Cause of Action Institute (CofA) Assistant Vice President Henry Kerner said in a statement.

The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012 (STOCK Act) requires certain executive branch officials to notify their ethics office within three days of beginning negations with future employers and to recuse themselves from related government matters, according to Kerner’s group.

“Assuming the STOCK Act applies, if then-Acting Administrator Flowers began negotiating or agreed to subsequent employment with AECOM while still serving at the FTA, the FTA Office of Chief Counsel should likely have been notified in writing,”said a CofA Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed Tuesday.

Flowers’ negotiations notification, her consequential recusal and communications between the acting administrator and AECOM were requested by CofA in its FOIA.

The watchdog previously requested similar documents regarding President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack after he started a new job in a related private company shortly after leaving the government.

“While we were pleased to learn Secretary Vilsack complied with the required ethics disclosures, we remain vigilant about making sure other government decision-makers do so, as well,” Kerner said.

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