Former Senior USAGM Official Haroon K. Ullah Pleads Guilty to Stealing Government Money

 

We’re late on this, but on June 27, 2019, USDOJ announced that Haroon K. Ullah, a former senior official of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the agency formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) entered a plea of guilty for stealing over $40,000 in government money in 2018.
Former Senior Official Pleads Guilty to Stealing Government Money
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – An Alexandria man pleaded guilty today to stealing over $40,000 in government money during 2018, while he was employed as a senior government official at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) in Washington, D.C.
According to court documents, Haroon K. Ullah, 41, admitted that he fraudulently obtained thousands of dollars in government funds by submitting falsified hotel invoices, falsified and inflated taxi and Uber receipts, and by billing the government for personal travel and for travel that had already been paid by third parties.
Additionally, Ullah admitted that he created a falsified letter from a real medical doctor purportedly claiming that Ullah needed to fly in business class at government expense because of a sore knee. By submitting the forged letter from the doctor, Ullah fraudulently obtained costly business class upgrades at government expense, including on lengthy international flights. Ullah admitted to creating many of the false documents on his government-issued laptop computer. As part of the plea, Ullah also admitted that he submitted falsified invoices and repair estimates to an insurance company regarding a claim for repairs to his home in Alexandria.
A former employee of the U.S. Department of State, Ullah became a member of the Senior Executive Service when he joined USAGM as its Chief Strategy Officer (CSO). Ullah committed his crime from February through October 2018, while serving as CSO. Ullah is no longer employed with USAGM.
Ullah pleaded guilty to theft of government money and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when sentenced on October 11. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III, accepted the plea. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell L. Carlberg is prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:19-cr-183.
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Mr. Ullah’s website still says that he “serves as Chief Strategy Officer at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an $800 million global media agency. He is a scholar, diplomat and policy practioner with a special focus on digital strategy, countering violent extremism and transmedia engagement.”
USAGM’s website has removed Mr. Ullah’s bio from its website and  info related to him appears not to display prominently on its website; a search still returns events where he was featured as the agency’s CSO, and the Wayback Machine has archived this CSO for eternity.
A Statement of Facts submitted with Mr. Ullah’s Plea Agreement notes that before joining USAGM, he had been employed with the U.S. Department of State since 2010.  It also notes the following:

5. During the approximate ninth—month period of February 2018-October 2018, ULLAH submitted for reimbursement multiple falsified hotel invoices; falsified taxi receipts; double-billed third party sponsors and USAGM for the same trips; and billed USAGM for personal
trips, either to promote his book, or for week-end trips during which little to no USAGM business was conducted. ULLAH used his government computer, a Microsoft Surface Pro, to create the false documents. He would obtain logos and other graphics on-line and use either an invoice generator or Microsofi Excel in order to create fraudulent hotel invoices. Sometimes ULLAH had stayed with a family member or friend or at a budget hotel, but he created the false invoice for the purpose of financial gain in order to maximize his reimbursement from USAGM. With other hotel invoices, ULLAH took a legitimate hotel invoice and changed his address or other data in order to conceal that the hotel room had been paid by a third party, which fact ULLAH intentionally failed to disclose to E2 and USAGM.

8. As part of a scheme to obtain business class travel to which he was not entitled, ULLAH also submitted to USAGM a falsified and forged letter from a real medical doctor, identified here by the initials N.A., claiming that ULLAH required an upgrade to business class because of a medical condition that required him to “lie flat” on long flights. The doctor confirmed to law enforcement that the letter was a forgery; that he did not authorize ULLAH to use his identity or to sign his name for him; and that a business class upgrade for ULLAH’s sore knee
was not medically necessary.

Part of the  Plea Agreement says:

Further, in accordance with Rule 11(c)(l)(B) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the United States and the defendant will recommend to the Court that the following provisions of the Sentencing Guidelines apply: Under Section 2B1 .1(b), the intended loss is greater than $40,000 but less than $95,000, thus six levels are added to the base offense level. Under Section 3Bl.2, the United States and the defendant agree to a two level enhancement for abuse of a position of public trust as an employee of the United States.

The Plea also notes:

“The United States will not further criminally prosecute the defendant in the Eastern District of Virginia for the specific conduct descfibed in the information or statement of facts. This plea agreement and statement of facts does not confer on the defendant any immunity from prosecution by any state government in the United States.”

 

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U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson to Retire After 31 Years of Service

Posted: 3:53 am ET

 

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Congress Seeks Info on @StateDept Senior Executives Who Are Subjects of Multiple Complaints

Posted: 12:47 am ET

 

Last week, we blogged about Senators seeking a review/analysis of @StateDept and @USAID sexual harassment and assault data. We have issues with the current harassment data, and sexual assault data in particularly is hard to come by. We want to know how many sexual harassment settlements were made, and how much. We also want to know how many sexual assaults reports have been made, how many cases were refused prosecution by the Department of Justice, and what happens to these cases/victims and their careers. We realized that we can scream our head off in this blog, but only Congress can force the State Department to make this data public (anonymized with no personally identifiable information). That time may be slow in coming, but it is coming.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, on January 22 sent a letter to Secretary Tillerson requesting information about members of the Department’s Senior Executive Service (SES) who have been the subjects of multiple complaints, including Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints. We don’t know what are the specific complaints in this case but EEOC discrimination complaint types include AgeDisabilityEqual Pay/CompensationGenetic InformationHarassmentNational OriginPregnancyRace/ColorReligionRetaliationSex, and Sexual Harassment.

Representative Cummings notes in his letter that “Several career employees at the State Department, including one of my constituents, have written to me raising serious allegations that the Department has repeatedly failed to eliminate the hostile work environment created by a member of the SES, [NAME REDACTED].” Mr. Cummings letter says that the employees indicated to him that numerous complaints have been filed against this individual “that resulted in settlements, but the Department has taken little action to hold this executive accountable or protect employees from abusive management practices.”

We understand that there are multiple individuals involved in the complaints shared with the House Oversight Committee but we don’t know the exact numbers, and whether or not this specific inquiry involves one specific SES member or more. It is telling that the trend on the complaints has moved to the Hill, and no longer localized within the agency. Is this an indicator that the current reporting system is not responsive to the needs of those affected? Or are we just living in a different era?  We do not want to see a trial by media, especially in the hands of politicians, but victims with no real recourse for redress may decide that talking to the Hill or the press is the only action left for them, no matter the personal consequences.

Also worth noting that Mr. Cumming’s request is specific to the Senior Executive Service, the senior ranks of the Civil Service, and does not include the senior ranks of the Foreign Service.

Mr. Cummings letter is asking the State Department to respond to the following requests:

1. an itemized list, with personally identifiable information removed, enumerating  each informal and formal complaint filed against [NAME REDACTED] at any time during his career, including but not limited to EEO complaints, citing:

  • (a) the date on which each complaint was filed;
  • (b) the base(s) of the complaint;
  • (c) the dates on which the complaint advanced through the informal and formal complaint steps;
  • (d) whether there was any finding arising from the complaint that discriminatory or retaliatory action had occurred;
  • (e) whether the complaint resulted in a settlement; and
  • (f) the terms of any settlement (including any monetary amounts included in the settlement); and

2. The number of Senior Executives against whom more than one informal or formal complaint has been filed with the Department of State at any time during the past five years.

3. All Department policies governing how evaluations of Senior Executives’ performance account for their work creating equality of opportunity for all employees.

See HOGR Cummings January 22, 2018 letter to Tillerson

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Staffing the State Department: Campaign Staffers and Supporters Find a New Home

Posted: 1:16 am ET
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We’ve previously posted in this blog the names of the Trump landing team at the State Department (see Trump Transition: Agency Landing Team For @StateDept Includes Old Familiar NamesTrump Transition: Additional Agency Landing Team Members For @StateDept).

On March 8, ProPublica released the names of more than 400 individuals who were hired by the Trump Administration across the federal government. These jobs do not require Senate confirmation.  ProPublica notes that its list represents Trump administration hires primarily made between Jan. 20 and Jan. 30, according to the Office of Personnel Management. It also says that at least a few of the officials have since moved to other agencies or left the government. The names were obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests to federal agencies.

Below are the names from the ProPublica list hired at the State Department.  Based on this list, it looks like only one from the Trump Landing Team (Ambassador Charles Glazer) has remained at the State Department as senior advisor. The rest of the names appear to include mostly former Trump campaign staffers. Note that GS for Grade level refers to the pay scale for federal employees. SES stands for Senior Executive Service, who serve in top positions the government.

If you have any information about members of the Trump beachhead teams or their roles in the agencies, contact ProPublica at beachhead@propublica.org to add to their list or via Signal at (774)-826-6240. Here is a guide for how to leak to ProPublica.

Via ProPublica

State Michael Dougherty (see) Senior Advisor GS-15 1/23/17
State John Eanes Senior Advisor SES 1/20/17
State Emily Eng (see) Staff Assistant GS-11 1/26/17
State Matthew Flynn Special Assistant GS-14 1/20/17
State Katherine Giblin Special Assistant GS-14 1/20/17
State Charles Glazer Senior Advisor GS-15 1/20/17
State Julia Haller Senior Advisor GS-15 1/23/17
State Jennifer Hazelton (see) Special Assistant GS-14 1/23/17
State Abigayle Jones (see) Staff Assistant GS-12 1/20/17
State Federico Klein (see) Staff Assistant GS-09 1/23/17
State Amanda Middlemas Special Assistant GS-13 1/24/17
State Hunter Morgen (see) Staff Assistant GS-07 1/20/17
State Matthew Mowers (see) Senior Advisor SES 1/20/17
State Christina Perrone (see) Senior Advisor GS-15 1/23/17
State Margaret Peterlin (see) Senior Advisor SES 1/25/17
State Pamela Pryor (see) Senior Advisor GS-15 1/20/17
State Jack Sewell (see) Staff Assistant GS-07 1/20/17
State Jared Smith (see) Staff Assistant GS-11 1/23/17
State Danielle Stoebe Staff Assistant GS-05 1/20/17
State Robert Wasinger (see) Senior Advisor GS-15 1/20/17
State Katheryn Wellner Special Advisor to Transition GS-15 1/23/17

 

Related items:

 

OPM Issues Guidelines For Incentive Awards During 2016 Election Period

Posted: 12:55 am EDT
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On January 11, Acting Director Beth F. Cobert issued the  OPM guidelines for Appointments and Awards During the 2016 Presidential Election Period. Below is an excerpt on the prohibition of awards  from June 1, 2016 – January 20, 2017:

Under 5 U.S.C 4508, an incentive award may not be given during the period beginning June 1, 2016, through January 20, 2017, to a senior politically appointed officer, defined as:

  1. An individual who serves in an SES position and is not a career appointee as defined in 5 U.S.C. 3132(a)(4), or
  2. An individual who serves in a position of a confidential or policy determining character as a Schedule C employee.

Because Limited Term/Limited Emergency appointees are not “career appointees,” they meet this definition of senior politically appointed officer and cannot receive incentive awards during the 2016 election period.

In addition, all political appointees continue to be covered by a freeze on discretionary awards, bonuses, and similar payments.  This freeze was established by Presidential Memorandum on August 3, 2010 (https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/presidential-memorandum-freeze-discretionary-awards-bonuses-and-similar-payments) and continues to remain in effect until further notice (https://www.chcoc.gov/content/guidance-awards-fiscal-year-2014). Agencies should continue to apply this freeze in accordance with OPM’s guidance at https://www.chcoc.gov/content/guidance-freeze-discretionary-awards-bonuses-and-similar-payments-federal-employees-serving.

For additional guidance regarding appointments of current or former political appointees to competitive service, non-political excepted service, or career SES position, contact Ana A. Mazzi, Deputy Associate Director for Merit System Accountability and Compliance, at (202) 606-4309 or PoliticalConversions@opm.gov.  For guidance on awards during the 2016 Presidential election period, contact Steve Shih, Deputy Associate Director for Senior Executive Services and Performance Management, by calling (202) 606-8046 or Performance-Management@opm.gov.

Read more here.

 

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About Time For That Washington Ritual: Watch Out For Political Appointees “Burrowing In”

Posted: 12:53 am EDT
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Late last year, WaPo wrote about the watchdogs being in the lookout for Obama appointees ‘burrowing in’:

As each administration winds down, some political appointees traditionally seek to continue their government service as career employees beyond the administration they served. Also known as “conversions,” the practice has attracted skepticism from government watchdogs and experts but has become known as something of a Washington ritual.
[…]
In 2010, GAO reviewed 26 federal departments and agencies that converted 139 people from political to career positions from May 2005 through May 2009. While the majority of the conversions followed proper procedures, GAO said at least seven might have violated the merit-based system, including a Department of Veterans Affairs appointee who lacked the required experience and a Justice Department employee who received a career position despite unfavorable recommendations from government interviewers.

A separate WaPo report notes that in May 2006, investigators found that 23 agencies hired 144 political appointees from the G.W.Bush administration into career positions from May 2001 to April 2005. “In at least 18 cases the agencies did not follow proper procedures, the GAO found, citing problems such as hiring appointees with limited qualifications, creating positions for specific individuals and disregarding veterans’ preference laws.”

It also cites a report from 2002 where apparently between October 1998 and April 2001, 111 political appointees and congressional aides from the Clinton administration landed career jobs in 45 executive-branch agencies.

On January 11, 2015, OPM also issued guidelines for processing certain appointments during the 2016 presidential election period.

I.  Appointment of Current or Former Political Appointees to Career Civil Service Positions

Agencies must seek prior approval from OPM before appointing a current or recent political appointee to a competitive or non-political excepted service position at any level under the provisions of title 5, United States Code.  A former or recent political appointee is someone who held a political appointment covered by OPM’s policy within the previous five-year period.  OPM reviews these proposed appointments to ensure they comply with merit system principles and applicable civil service laws.  OPM’s memo and instructions regarding political appointees and career civil service positions is available at https://www.chcoc.gov/content/political-appointees-and-career-civil-service-positions.  The memo includes pre-appointment review checklists to assist agencies in preparing their submissions for review.

Note:  Schedule C employees may not be detailed to competitive service positions without prior OPM approval [see 5 CFR 300.301(c)], and no competitive service vacancy should be created for the sole purpose of selecting a Schedule C or Noncareer SES employee. 

OPM prepared a series of questions and answers (Q&As) to respond to agency inquiries about its policy for pre-appointment reviews and to provide additional details that will help agencies meet the policy’s requirements.  These Q&As, which follow, are also available at http://www.opm.gov/FAQs/topic/ppa/index.aspx?page=1

II.  Appointing Employees to the Senior Executive Service

OPM will continue to conduct merit staffing reviews of proposed career SES selections that involve a current or former political, Schedule C, or Noncareer SES appointee before such cases are formally presented to a Qualifications Review Board (QRB).  Agencies should carefully review all actions that would result in the career SES appointment of a political, Schedule C, or Noncareer SES before forwarding such cases to OPM.

Note:  All SES vacancies to be filled by initial career appointment must be publicly announced (5 CFR 317.501).  Only a career SES or career-type non‑SES appointee may be detailed to a Career-Reserved position (5 CFR 317.903(c)).  

In addition, OPM will suspend the processing of QRB cases when an agency head leaves office or announces his or her intention to leave office, or if the President has nominated a new agency head.  OPM imposes a moratorium on QRB cases as a courtesy to a new agency head when it learns of an agency head’s planned departure.  However, OPM will consider requests for exceptions to such a moratorium on a case-by-case basis.  When a presidential transition occurs, OPM will determine the disposition of QRB cases based upon the policy of the new administration.

In the same announcement, OPM released its Do’s and Don’t’s with burrowing employees:

Effective January 1, 2010, OPM conducts on-going pre-appointment reviews of current or former political appointee, Schedule C employee, and Noncareer SES member appointments to the competitive or exceptive service.  OPM seeks to ensure that the merit system principle of fair and open competition is protected.  With this in mind, these are the two most common reasons for OPM not to approve an appointment or a conversion:

  1. the new position appears to have been designed solely for the individual who is being converted, and/or
  2. competition has been limited inappropriately.

Below are “Do’s” that will help agencies with the conversion approval process:

  • Do make a public announcement through OPM’s USAJOBS when filling competitive or excepted service vacancies from candidates outside your own agency’s workforce.
  • Do carefully consider the Interagency Career Transition Assistance Plan for Displaced Employees regulations (5 CFR 330, Subpart G) before making selections.
  • Do ensure the Chief Human Capital Officer and Human Resources Director closely review all such proposed actions to determine if they meet the test of merit.
  • Do ensure the Chief Human Capital Officer and Human Resources Director gather all necessary internal agency approvals before presenting a case to OPM for review.

And “Don’ts”:

  • Don’t create or announce a competitive or excepted service vacancy for the sole purpose of selecting a current or former political appointee, Schedule C employee, or Noncareer SES member.
  • Don’t remove the Schedule C or Noncareer SES elements of a position solely to appoint the incumbent into the competitive or excepted service.

Read more here.

 

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Top Five/Bottom Five For Performance Awards in FY2014

Posted: 2:48 am EDT
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Via GovExec:

The number of career senior executives receiving a bonus based on their job performance increased by 12.2 percentage points between fiscal years 2013 and 2014 across government, and the average amount of individual performance awards increased $347 during that time.
[…]
Here are the top five most generous agencies when it came to individual performance awards in fiscal 2014. We’ve defined “most generous” as those agencies that provided bonuses that were more than the average individual award of $10,560 governmentwide. Again, these are averages; some senior executives might have received more money, and others less than the amount listed in parentheses.

  1. National Science Foundation ($15,333)
  2. Justice ($14,600)
  3. Small Business Administration ($13,894)
  4. Education ($12,800)
  5. Commerce ($12,177)

The agencies that doled out the smallest individual SES performance (less than $10,560) awards in fiscal 2014 were:

  1. State Department ($8,434)
  2. General Services Administration ($8,509)
  3. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ($9,013)
  4. Transportation Department ($9,063)
  5. Veterans Affairs Department ($9,450)

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@StateDept Ranks #3 in Happiest Senior Executives, Mind the Happiness Gap

Posted: 12:50 am  EDT
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This report is based on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), a tool that “measures employees’ perceptions of whether, and to what extent, conditions characterizing successful organizations are present in their agencies.” The full report is available here.