Patty Hamel, whose husband, Gordon Hamel, is in a dispute over his employment at the President's Commission on Excutive Exchange, is a niece of Rep. Joe Moakley (D-Mass.). Her kinship was incorrectly described on the Federal Page yesterday. (Published 12/12/90)
It usually takes a major event such as the gulf crisis or the savings and loan debacle to summon members of a congressional committee back to Washington for a hearing after adjournment.
But for nearly five hours yesterday, members of the House subcommittee on employment and housing, the same panel that investigated corruption in the Reagan administration's Housing and Urban Development Department, reconvened to discuss the fate of Gordon Hamel, a career civil service worker who is on the verge of being fired.
Hamel, as it quickly turned out, is no ordinary bureaucrat, nor is the agency for which he worked a typical federal agency where workers slavishly adhere to a rigid set of rules and regulations.
The President's Commission on Executive Exchange operates out of a tastefully restored townhouse on Lafayette Square near the White House, and the hearing before an often-lecturing Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) left many questions about the agency and its case against Hamel unanswered.
For example, there was the recent 21-day European trip that many on the 10-member staff took, paying their Bethesda travel agent to come along at government expense. There was the advertising executive the commission placed in the Commerce Department and then awarded a $12,000 consulting contract to keep his salary at $72,000 a year.
There was the $18,000 that the commission returned to Pepsico Inc., the soft-drink conglomerate, when it complained about a fee it had to pay to allow one of its employees to work in the government. And there was the gold jewelry bearing the commission's acronym that it almost bought for the workers it helps move between agencies and private industry.
All those questions, and probably more, will be addressed by a General Accounting Office audit that Lantos announced he has ordered into the doings of the tiny presidential agency. What troubled Lantos and the two other members of his subcommittee yesterday was the way the agency's director appeared to have gone after Hamel, a GM-15, as soon as he complained to an inspector general about how she was running the commission.
Hamel may have had direct access to Congress. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a subcommittee member and former panel chairman, acknowledged that the 11-year bureaucrat is married to Patty Hamel, one of his former office managers, and that he urged the subcommittee to investigate the case quickly. Patty Hamel, who now works for the Senate Banking Committee, is the daughter of Rep. Joe Moakley (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Rules Committee.
Stuart Weisberg, the subcommittee's counsel, said that he "casually" knew Gordon Hamel, having played with him on a softball team that was fielded by Frank's office. Weisberg said he played second base and Hamel played center field, but said that another member of the staff had handled the investigaton.
Hamel opened the hearings charging that he had been wronged by the commission's executive director, Betty G. Heitman, after he complained about the commission's questionable activities to officials from the Office of Personnel Management. "I took the bull by the horns because the agency was literally run without regard to the requirements of the law governing the operations of federal agencies," he said.
Heitman, a political appointee holding her first Washington job, allowed that things were not too bureaucratic at 744 Jackson Place. But that was because she was politically naive and Hamel wasn't, she said.
"Mr. Chairman, I come from Louisiana and we have a belief down there that you have to question the rooster who believes that because of his crowing, the sun rises in the morning," she said in a statement defending her planned dismissal of Hamel.
Hamel, she charged, was the rooster disrupting the commission, attempting to claim credit for spotlighting abuses at the agency rather than face allegations of sexual harassment, disruptive conduct and insubordination.
Lantos said an OPM inspector general's investigation of the case "has more holes in it than Dunkin Donuts" and Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) told Heitman she had a poorly run agency and had failed to document her charges against Hamel.
"Right now, there is a cloud over both of you," he said.