NSF Official Settles Suit, Retains Post
A high-ranking National Science Foundation official who oversees K-12 education grants has agreed to pay $24,900 to settle a federal civil lawsuit. The suit stems from charges that he illegally accepted speaking fees while on duty.
Luther S. Williams, the federal agency's assistant director for education and human resources, will keep his job, an NSF spokeswoman said, but has received an official letter of reprimand. Mr. Williams, 57, has worked at the NSF since 1989 and has held his current post since 1990. He oversees about $374 million in funding for precollegiate programs this year. ("K-12 Math, Science Grantmaker for NSF Under Scrutiny," March 4, 1998.)
The settlement that Mr. Williams entered into with the Department of Justice last week requires him to pay full restitution of $4,900 as well as a $20,000 civil penalty, or one-tenth of the maximum allowed.
Fees Not Solicited
NSF officials said that Mr. Williams did not solicit the honoraria and that there is no evidence the payments altered his decisions or actions regarding foundation grants. A request for an interview with Mr. Williams was referred to his lawyer.
"In the cases involved here, he regrettably was not as careful as he might have been," said Guy Petrillo, Mr. Williams' lawyer. "He never had any intent to violate the law or to use his government position for personal advantage."
An NSF memorandum indicates that Mr. Williams largely attributed his acceptance of the honoraria payments to inattention to the way he was reimbursed for travel expenses.
According to the civil complaint filed June 17 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., Mr. Williams illegally took honoraria on four occasions when he was traveling in his official capacity and on government time. He received a $500 honorarium for a 1993 speech at Loyola University of Chicago; a $2,000 fee, $600 of which paid for travel expenses, from a 1993 speech at Michigan State University in East Lansing; a $2,000 honorarium from Sigma Xi, a scientific-research society based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., for a speech in Atlanta; and $1,000 for delivering the 1996 commencement address at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, part of the City University of New York.
As part of his reprimand by the NSF, Mr. Williams will have to obtain advance clearance from the foundation's office of the general counsel for all future official travel and any outside paid activities, such as speaking, writing, lecturing, or consulting.
Vol. 17, Issue 41, Page 29