Former Commerce Department inspector general Francis D. DeGeorge pleaded guilty yesterday to a criminal conflict-of-interest charge stemming from job discussions he had with a company that had a government contract to aid the National Weather Service.

As inspector general, DeGeorge was responsible for acting as a watchdog over the work performed by Litton PRC Inc., which had a contract to update the automated weather forecasting systems of the weather service, which is part of the Commerce Department. But at the same time he was carrying out those duties, prosecutors said, DeGeorge was exploring job prospects at the company.

The discussions took place between November 1995 and July 1996 and included meetings with Litton PRC officials. They did not lead to a job, and DeGeorge retired in 1998 after nearly 10 years as the Commerce IG.

In U.S. District Court yesterday, Justice Department lawyer Kartik K. Raman said authorities had no evidence that DeGeorge's job negotiations with the company influenced any decision he made at Commerce.

DeGeorge's guilty plea came after an investigation by the FBI and the Justice Department's public integrity section. DeGeorge pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge that could carry up to year in prison and a maximum $100,000 fine. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he also could get probation. As part of his plea bargain, prosecutors agreed not to oppose a defense request that DeGeorge be put on probation.

Magistrate Judge Alan Kay set a hearing for June 8. He said he could sentence DeGeorge then.

DeGeorge, 70, was very subdued and said little in court yesterday, simply answering "yes" when Kay asked him if the prosecutor's version of events was true and if he understood the impact of a guilty plea. DeGeorge declined comment as he left the courthouse.

Defense attorney Reid H. Weingarten said DeGeorge was a "hard-nosed, good-government guy" who made an uncharacteristic lapse in judgment toward the end of his career and chose to have a "few unfortunate conversations" with old acquaintances.

In court papers, Weingarten explained that DeGeorge worked for Litton Industries in the late 1950s and 1960s and still had friends there. In the mid-1990s, after more than 25 years of government work, DeGeorge wanted to explore other possibilities, Weingarten said, not realizing his approach could violate federal conflict-of-interest laws.

Litton PRC Inc. is a Mclean-based information technology firm.

During his government service, DeGeorge handled high-level jobs at a number of departments and joined Commerce in 1982 as deputy inspector general. He took the top job in 1988.