Education Dept. CIO under fire for improper business dealings

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The chief information
officer for the Department of Education profited
from having employees install home theater equipment and detail cars for side business ventures, department investigators found.

The investigators
confirmed CIO Danny Harris, who started at the agency as an intern in 1985 and
moved up the ranks, did not report $10,000 in income on top of his
government salary, on his tax form. He also made a $4,000
loan to one of his subordinates, used his work email to conduct outside
business and helped a relative secure a job in the department, according to
investigators.

The details of
questionable conduct are expected to come out Tuesday during a House
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing. EdScoop obtained copies of advanced
testimonies from Harris, who admitted to the findings, along with those
of investigators from the Office of the Inspector General, and acting
Education Secretary John King, who dealt with Harris when he was a deputy
secretary.

Harris was the subject of a previous
hearing
in November,
when he testified about security loopholes and a disturbing number of data
breaches within the agency.

The department’s
security systems have “become a monster,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz,
R-Utah, chairman of the committee, said at the time. “We don’t know who’s
in there, we don’t know what they’re doing.”

Now it appears the
upcoming hearing will focus on Harris’ conduct in office. The inspector general
started probing him for actions in and before 2013, and substantiated enough
claims to report him to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of
Columbia. The attorney’s office declined to prosecute.

In his testimony,
Harris said that “many staff members at the department were aware” of
his side business ventures, which he called “hobbies,” and that two
employees “were interested in learning more about these activities.”

“I do my best to
work with my staff to help them gain new skills,” he said. “I came to
realize that by including them in these activities, for which they were
compensated, I used poor judgment.”

Harris said he has
pulled the plug on his enterprises. His home theater business didn’t turn up in
a Google search.

Investigators and King
said Harris got counseling in 2013.

In his prepared remarks, King said that a separate Office of General Counsel report “confirmed not only OGC’s conclusion that the information did not support a conclusion that Dr. Harris violated any law, regulation, or standard of ethical conduct, but also that the counseling undertaken … seemed to have been effective and appropriate.”

But, he added, “I
nonetheless viewed some of the actions by Dr. Harris that were detailed through
the investigation to reflect a serious lack of judgement.”

OIG has conducted 10
investigations since 2010 involving senior Education Department officials,
including Harris.

Reach the reporter at
corinne.lestch@edscoop.com, and follow her on Twitter
@clestch and @edscoop_news.

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