Thompson Probe Keeping Tabs on Politicking by Top Appointees

Washington, DC – Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson (R-TN) said today that he is gathering information on political travel and campaigning on the part of agency heads and high-ranking political appointees in order to let taxpayers know whether or not they are subsidizing time spent on politicking by high ranking appointees.

“The taxpayers should know how much time our high-ranking officials spend on the campaign trail and know whether those activities are being conducted at taxpayer expense,” Thompson said. “Secondly, letting these appointees know that their activities were being looked at sends the message that they should keep their noses to the grindstone and perform the job the taxpayers are paying them to do.”

Earlier this year, Thompson asked agency Inspectors General (IGs) to gather information on agency head and high-ranking political appointee political travel and activities. This request followed the incident last winter where federal employees were left in limbo because the federal personnel chief was on the campaign trail in Iowa, rather than in Washington, to make the call to close federal offices due to a blizzard. Thompson?s request to report on political travel went to the IGs in February and asked them to review political travel and activities on the part of high-ranking officials in 18 departments and agencies.

Thompson said that following his request, the time spent on travel reported as political declined significantly during the summer months. For instance, Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater reported spending more than 400 hours on political activities and travel during the period of March 1998 through May 2000. However, upon an updated report for the next 2 months, Secretary Slater reported spending 12 hours on political activities. The glaring exception for the period covered appears to be Energy Secretary Richardson who spent 56 hours on political activities from March 1998 to February 2000, and 89 hours from March to September 2000. “Despite all the well known problems confronting the Energy Department, Secretary Richardson apparently chose to step up his activities on the campaign trail,” said Thompson.

However, Thompson noted that recent news reports appear to indicate increased politicking — which is not being reported as political activity — by Administration officials as election day approaches. He said that the IGs will continue to provide updates on appointees? political activities through election day to ensure that these officials are performing the jobs that the taxpayers expect them to do.

Thompson noted that Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo and Secretary of Labor Alexis Hermann have refused to report the time spent on the campaign trail. Also, Small Business Administrator Aida Alvarez did not comply with the congressional request other than to respond that she was in conformance with the Hatch Act (the law governing political activities on the part of federal employees.)

“This failure to comply with our request is disturbing,” said Thompson. “They were put on notice to compile the time spent on their political activities and evading our inquiry raises more questions about the extent of their campaign activities. We intend to press this matter with them.”

Thompson noted that top-ranking political appointees are considered to be on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week and the law permits them to engage in partisan political activities. However, time spent on the hustings should not detract from the people?s business.

# # #