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DOD IG finds fault with former SECAF

2/15/2005 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- The former secretary of the Air Force was found recently to have committed two technical violations of the Joint Ethics Regulation.

The findings are the result of an investigation by the Department of Defense's Office of the Inspector General and were published in a report Jan. 27.

In May 2003, then Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche used his government- issued hand-held communications device to send an e-mail to a non-government individual. That individual was a former co-worker at Northrop Grumman where Dr. Roche previously worked. In the e-mail, Dr. Roche provided a character reference for the brother of a personal friend. The brother was seeking employment at Northrop Grumman. The e-mail in itself was not a violation.

However, due to pre-set configuration of the hand-held device, Dr. Roche's e-mail automatically included a banner at the bottom with the signature element reflecting his office: "Dr. James G. Roche, Secretary of the Air Force."

Under Section 2635.702(b) of the JER, titled "Appearance of Governmental Sanction," Department of Defense employees are prohibited from using their official title in a manner that reasonably could be construed to imply that his or her agency endorses his personal action. An example under that provision of the JER prohibits using official letterhead or one's official title in a letter when making job recommendations for personal friends where the association is unrelated to the government employee's official position and the recommendation is not for a federal job. Arguing by analogy to these rules, the report concluded Dr. Roche violated the regulation by sending the e-mail and including his official signature element.

Regarding the second finding, there is no specific regulation saying DOD employees cannot make a job recommendation using government e-mail. However, under Section 2-301 of the JER, titled "Use of Federal Government Resources," government employees are permitted limited use of government communications resources for personal use, unless such use violates another regulation.

According to the report, when Dr. Roche unknowingly violated the first regulation by forwarding the e-mail with his official title, he therefore technically violated the second regulation as well.

In responding to the preliminary IG findings, Dr. Roche stated that he fully understood and respected that public office is a public trust. He also agreed that employees should be careful to avoid giving the appearance of government endorsement where it is inappropriate to do so. He went on to argue in the detailed response that, under the circumstances surrounding the e-mail to his personal friend, he believed there was absolutely no risk of any such implication.

Dr. Roche also urged that more specific guidance be provided to government employees should IG officials stand by their initial application of the JER. Otherwise, he added, the inadequate guidance pertaining to new technologies not originally contemplated by the JER, such as e-mail, would continue to cause problems for government workers.

Lastly, in their Jan. 27 letter to Dr. Roche, IG officials wrote that while the secretary had violated two sections of the ethics regulation, they found insufficient evidence to suggest his e-mail had influenced an assessment of the tanker lease proposal by the Office of Management and Budget.

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