A senior executive at the Education Department ran a car-detailing and home theater installation business after hours, and he employed subordinates from his federal agency while soliciting orders from other subordinates, according to an investigation by the agency’s inspector general.
Those actions by Danny A. Harris, chief information officer for the agency, as well as his effort to help a relative find work at the department and his close friendship with an agency vendor — will be the focus of a hearing Tuesday by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the panel, said through a spokeswoman that Harris’s activities have damaged his agency. “The morale in the office of the chief information officer is at an all-time low due to the dysfunctional environment Mr. Harris has cultivated,” he said.
Chaffetz’s concerns extend beyond Harris’s personal situation. “Simply put, when CIOs fail to bring both high managerial and ethical standards to their work, institutions suffer, systems are weakened and the data of millions of Americans are endangered,” Chaffetz said.
Harris, 56, also failed to report $10,000 in income from his various businesses on his federal disclosure forms and to the Internal Revenue Service, according to investigators.
The agency’s inspector general launched an investigation into Harris’s activities in 2011 after receiving anonymous complaints.
By April 2013, investigators confirmed that Harris ran a home theater installation business and car-detailing operation, that he paid an hourly wage to two of his subordinates to perform that work, and that he got orders for work from other subordinates. The home theater installation business generated at least $10,000 in income, according to the written testimony of Deputy Inspector General Sandra D. Bruce.
Harris told investigators that he did not report that income as required of federal officials and that he also did not include it in tax filings.
In written testimony obtained by The Washington Post, Harris will take responsibility on Tuesday for actions that caused some at the agency to question whether he favored the employees who worked with him in his side ventures or those who paid him for such services.
“I fully understand and take responsibility for how some of my actions could allow questions to arise about my impartiality,” Harris is expected to say, according to his written testimony. “This is unacceptable. I have learned from this experience, however, and to eliminate any such questions, I have assured my supervisors at the Department, and I want to also state unequivocally today, that I have not engaged in any of the actions that raised questions since prior to the IG’s investigation. The actions I took showed that I used poor judgment and I deeply regret those actions.”
Harris, who made a salary of $183,267 last year, declined to be interviewed Monday.
Investigators also say Harris used his federal email account to conduct his outside business, a violation of policy. And while he participated on a panel that awarded a contract to a company owned by a friend, investigators say that his participation did not result in an improper contract award. Harris also helped a relative get a job at the department in 2010, although that relative left in 2013. And Harris made a $4,000 loan to one of his subordinates, investigators found.
The inspector general referred the case to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who declined in 2015 to prosecute the case because of the availability of administrative remedies.
Senior leaders at the agency, including deputy secretaries, the general counsel and the chief ethics officer, spoke with Harris about his activities, but he was not removed from his job or otherwise penalized.
Susan Winchell, assistant general counsel for ethics at the Education Department, is expected to tell the Oversight Committee that she did not think Harris broke any rules. “Although it appeared that Dr. Harris exercised poor judgment with respect to some of the conduct outlined . . . he did not violate the ethics rules,” according to her written testimony.
Harris first joined the Education Department as a summer intern in 1985 and steadily climbed the career ladder at the organization.
Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and attributed quotes relayed by a spokeswoman for the actual chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), to Issa. This article has been updated.