Ethics watchdog calls for investigation of resigning deputy FRA director


   A nonpartisan, nonprofit government ethics watchdog is calling on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the recently resigned deputy administrator and former acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
   In a letter to the DOJ, the Campaign for Accountability (CfA) asked the acting chief of the department’s Public Integrity Section to investigate whether Heath Hall, who resigned as the FRA’s second-in-command on Feb. 10 amid allegations that he was still conducting business as a public relations consultant, violated criminal law by making false claims about receiving outside income while in office.
   The CfA further alleges in its letter that Hall, who was named to the post by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao on June 23, 2017, willfully filled out a public financial disclosure form in July 2017 in which he said his political consulting firm, Strategic Marketing Group, LLC, would “remain dormant” during the course of his federal service.
   CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said in a statement Hall’s appointment to the rail safety arm of the Department of Transportation was an “unmitigated disaster from the get-go.”
   “Not only did he completely lack any experience for the critical job of overseeing America’s rail network, but he was holding down a second job as a Mississippi public relations consultant,” he said. “What’s worse, Hall lied about his consulting work on his financial disclosure form. The Justice Department should investigate to make it clear that lying on financial disclosure forms is against the law.”
   According to the letter, Hall maintained a public relations contract with the Madison County Sheriff’s office in Mississippi, acting as a spokesman for the office and receiving payments from the county totaling $12,000 between June and November of 2017.
   The letter notes that employees appointed by the president to full-time noncareer positions in the executive branch are permitted to receive outside income, but that if Hall was part of the senior executive service, “there are some circumstances under which he would have been permitted to receive some income from outside employment.”
   CfA says it sent multiple inquiries to the FRA and DOT regarding Hall’s outside employment at the time, but received no response.
   “In an effort to definitively ascertain whether Mr. Hall’s continued outside employment violated federal law, CfA made repeated efforts to determine Mr. Hall’s salary at the FRA,” the group said. “Despite our numerous requests – and eventually those of journalists – the FRA and the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) repeatedly refused to provide this public information.”
   Following his resignation, the DOT sent a statement to media outlets that said the department was “unaware of the information that is being reported regarding outside work Heath Hall took on during his time at FRA,” but added that “those allegations, if true, are troubling.”
   “Not only was Hall moonlighting while working on the taxpayer’s dime, he was lying about it,” said Stevens. “The Department of Transportation was slow to hold Hall accountable. The question now is will DOJ do any better?”
   The U.S. Senate on Tuesday evening confirmed by voice vote Ronald Batory as the permanent administrator of the FRA.

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