Report: Ex-Interior Department official steered federal awards to friends

President Obama’s only Cabinet-level official from the U.S. territory of Guam steered federal contracts to friends, engaged in discrimination and sexual harassment, requested and received personal favors from subordinates and benefitted personally from taxpayer-funded trips, according to a watchdog report.

The review by the Interior Department’s inspector general largely substantiated allegations from agency employees against Anthony Babauta, who resigned in January as assistant secretary for Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs.

Anthony Babauta - White House photo
Anthony Babauta – White House photo

Investigators determined that the former official directed the awarding of two Office of Insular Affairs grants worth a combined $451,200 to the University of Guam against the advice of his staff and grant specialists. The money went to the school’s Micronesian Center for a Sustainable Future.

Babauta released a statement this week that acknowledged “the appearance of conflicts” but said his actions as assistant secretary were “legitimate endeavors to improve the quality of life for areas under my responsibility.” He added that his connections with Guam leaders “had no bearing in how I made a final decision.”

Babauta’s statement did not address the other findings of the investigation.

The report said that Babauta, who is married, frequently met with a girlfriend during trips he booked for government business, including a meeting in Arkansas with the state’s health department and the Marshallese ambassador. His mistress was in Arkansas at the time visiting with family and doing work for former congressman Vic Snyder (D-Ark.), the report said.

In terms of harassment, investigators determined through interviews with employees that Babauta made female workers feel uncomfortable with some of his comments.

According to the report, Babauta told one woman had a “hot ass” after sitting in her chair. He also appeared to be fixated on high heels, saying women should wear heels instead of flats, complimenting a female intern for wearing “sexy shoes” and saying women should keep “hooker” footwear around the office, the report said.

Babauta also asked a deputy director to prepare a PowerPoint presentation for a speech at his daughter’s school about public service, and he had an employee pick up his girlfriend at an airport and drive them around for the weekend, among other questionable uses of government personnel, according to the report

The University of Guam has said it did nothing improper and that it used the funds to benefit activities of the Micronesian chief executives’ council. The Office of Insular Affairs eventually terminated the grants and returned the remaining $378,818 in funds to the federal government, according to the report.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to federalworker@washpost.com.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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