If Congressional Investigators Come Knocking, Here's What to Do

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 7, 2007

The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce offers a series of programs for its government contractor members: seminars, networking opportunities, news about latest developments.

And, last week, this one: "Congressional Investigations: The Challenge of Responding Effectively."

It sold out.

About 40 people showed up, lured by the chamber's warning that the recent change in control of Congress will inevitably mean more investigations by newly empowered Democrats.

"They're looking at security, police, construction in Iraq -- we do all of that," said Greg Lagana, a spokesman for DynCorp International who attended the early morning breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner.

"You want to know how they think," added Curtis Schehr, DynCorp's general counsel. "How do they view the process?"

DynCorp, a major government contractor in Falls Church, got a letter last month from a House oversight committee headed by Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), asking for details about the behavior of its gun-carrying employees. This wasn't DynCorp's first experience with scrutiny -- it has faced criticism of the quality of the Iraqi security forces it trains and questions about the merit of its expenditures.

But it wouldn't hurt, Lagana thought, to get a little advice. So he went to the breakfast, where lawyers, government contractors and executives gathered to hear tips from five panelists: two lawyers, two investigators from Capitol Hill -- one a Democrat, the other a Republican -- and ABC News reporter Justin Rood.

Lagana and Schehr nodded at a piece of advice from lawyer Alan I. Baron: When you're being investigated, the first thing to do is call the committee staff.

"We did that," Lagana said -- they had already asked exactly what Waxman's oversight committee wanted. Schehr added: "The first thing we did was to say we're an open book. We attempted to build a relationship. You want to establish credibility and that you're working in good faith."

The panelists discussed recent investigations into the use of steroids in baseball, the case of Valerie Plame and into Federal Emergency Management Agency contracts after Hurricane Katrina.

"There's been a significant spike in breadth, depth and scope of investigations," said moderator Gerry Sikorski, who heads the government section of law firm Holland & Knight. "There's no rules of evidence like a courtroom. It is part governmental, part political and part P.R."

Keith Ausbrook, Republican general counsel for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, offered this: Most any contract done on short notice and quickly is an invitation to an investigation.

"If you think you've got a deal that's too good to be true," he said, "you might find yourself in a congressional hearing."

"Don't promise you're going to cooperate if you're not going to deliver," warned Theodore D. Chuang, deputy chief investigative counsel for Waxman. He reminded the audience that Congress can get privileged and classified information.

"Be honest and candid with the committee," Chuang said. "It has discretion on whether to investigate and how to investigate."

Success in front of a congressional inquiry isn't the same as winning a case, lawyers explained. Success could simply mean limiting the coverage of your client's investigation to a single day's newspaper story, said Baron, who co-chairs the congressional investigations team at Holland & Knight.

One more tip: Don't ignore any congressional letter, because that often will get ratcheted up to a subpoena.

And what to do if you do get a subpoena?

"Go to church," Sikorski said.

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