In his early months on the job, Mike Pompeo sought an unusual perk for a secretary of State: permission to rent a Washington, D.C.-area house that was controlled by the U.S. military.
Pompeo and his aides initially tried to arrange for the chief U.S. diplomat and his family to live close to the State Department in the Potomac Hill campus, where the Navy maintained some homes. But ultimately the Pompeos moved into U.S. Army housing at the Fort Myer base in Virginia, according to people familiar with the issue.
Along the way, the request set off legal and logistical alarms, raising questions about whether Pompeo is eligible for any sort of military housing.
According to a memo obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight and shared this week with POLITICO, a top Navy lawyer warned that the Pompeos’ initial request for housing was “problematic” and raised “factual, legal, fiscal and ethical” issues, not the least of which was whether he’d be displacing military officers already in line for the limited housing.
The memo even questioned whether State Department officials should be trying to secure housing for the secretary of State seeing as it’s arguably not their job. The department could be violating the “Antideficiency Act” by devoting time and resources to the issue, the memo warned.
“Given that obtaining and paying for housing is a personal responsibility of civilian employees of the Government, [Department of State] Office of Counsel may need to consider whether the agency has been authorized by law and provided appropriations by Congress to expend time and agency resources to locate and secure personal housing for the Secretary of State,” the Navy memo states.
Excerpt from memo discussing Ethical Considerations:
(1) Use of Government Resources.
DOS Office of Counsel will need to determine whether the effort to obtain GFOQ housing for the Secretary of State constitutes an official agency act within the scope of their authority and funding, or whether the search for housing is more properly characterized as a personal matter of the Secretary. Subject to this determination, the Office of Counsel will then be able to determine, based upon their agency’s rules of ethics, together with the U.S. Government Standards of Ethical Conduct For Employees of the Executive Branch, 5 C.F.R. § 2635.702 & 705, whether it is proper to permit the use of employee time and agency resources to locate and obtain housing for the Secretary of State.
(2) Appearance of Impropriety.
The DOS Office of Counsel will require an opportunity to consider to what extent there might be a negative public perception relating to a civilian Secretary of State displacing a uniformed member of the military in a tight housing market. In accordance with CNICINST 11103.3B, Enclosure 3, Paragraph 5, Flag Officers are referred to Privatized GFOQs within each Navy Region. As mentioned earlier, there is a housing waiting list of Navy Flag personnel. DOS Office of Counsel may wish to consider whether placing the Secretary of State in Navy Flag quarters, while actual Navy Flag Officers—who are unquestionably entitled to such housing—continue to wait for assigned quarters, would raise the specter of the appearance of impropriety proscribed by the Standards of Ethical Conduct, 5 C.F.R. § 2635.101(b)(14).
So the Pompeos have occupied this military housing for a while now, and yet, their rental, which State Department folks say is “fair market value” for the residence still does not include a dollar amount?
The report also says that State Department spokespersons “defended Pompeo’s current arrangement by saying it made sense security-wise as well as financially, and that the department’s lawyers had fully vetted the topic.”