The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee agreed yesterday to delay its vote on the nomination of Terence C. Golden to head the General Services Administration, after several members expressed concern about Golden's decision not to put his multimillion-dollar real estate holdings into a blind trust.
Instead the panel decided to ask the Office of Government Ethics for an opinion on the matter to make sure it did not set a precedent for approving a nominee who had refused to use a blind trust. The request is expected to delay the nomination until at least next month.
Golden, 39, is involved with 115 partnerships and 25 small corporations, many of which are affiliated with developer Trammell Crow and his family, according to documents released by the panel. The committee staff had found Golden's finances so confusing that it asked General Accounting Office auditors to review them before the hearings began.
Golden joined the Treasury Department last year as assistant secretary for administration after serving as managing partner of the Trammell Crow Residential Companies in Dallas for seven years.
"I don't see any way GSA is going to get involved in residential real estate," Golden said. He said that only four of the businesses were involved with commercial developments and that their owners have agreed not to do business with GSA while he is there.
Golden said that rather than place his investments in a blind trust he has hired Crow's nephew, Michael Crow, to look after his interests day-to-day.
"I have heard about too many government officials who have set up a blind trust only to find, when they leave the government, that they have nothing," Golden said. "I want to know when it is appropriate to leave government and to attend to my financial affairs."
Golden testified under oath that he earned $2 million from his holdings over the past year but spent only "about one-and-a-half hours per week" monitoring his investments.
But Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) told Golden, "You really haven't given up anything. These are not passive investments . . . because you want to manage them and make money."
Golden said he would sign a document authorizing the deputy GSA administrator to handle all decisions involving individuals associated with his old firms.
But Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.) pointed out that Golden would choose his own deputy so that might not solve the problem.
Eagleton said that GSA would be "blessed" to have someone with extensive real estate experience at the helm, but that Golden's decision not to use a blind trust was a "unique and unprecedented situation" that "raises the specter of potential conflict of interest."
David H. Martin, director of the Office of Government Ethics, said the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 gives presidential nominees "three tools to attain the same goal: blind trusts, recusing yourself from any decision-making activity or you can divest yourself. The key is that the law does require that you operate free of conflicts of interest."