Published Online:
Published in Print: February 10, 2016, as Ed. Dept. CIO Grilled By Oversight Panel

Ed. Dept. Official Grilled Over Tax, Conflict of Interest Allegations

Danny Harris, the chief information officer for the U.S. Department of Education, testifies on Capitol Hill over an Inspector General’s report that looked into his personal business and tax issues.
Danny Harris, the chief information officer for the U.S. Department of Education, testifies on Capitol Hill over an Inspector General’s report that looked into his personal business and tax issues.
—Molly Riley/AP

Allegations involve taxes, conflict of interest

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Lawmakers on the House Government and Oversight Committee are probing tax and conflict of interest allegations against the U.S. Department of Education's chief information officer—and that could create headaches for acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., who was called to testify in Congress on the issue last week.

Danny Harris, the department's CIO, ran a side business installing home theaters and detailing cars, according to the Associated Press. He didn't report about $10,000 in income from that business in public disclosure forms, or on his taxes. And he made a $4,000 loan to one of his subordinates and allegedly helped a relative get a job at the department, according to the Education Department's Inspector General.

Harris was asked about those issues by lawmakers on the House oversight committee Feb. 2, and after the hearing concluded, he collapsed and was taken to the hospital for a time.

Cybersecurity Team

Harris is a part of a team that oversees cybersecurity at the department, an issue that the House oversight panel looked into in November. The committee found that while the department holds 139 million Social Security numbers, it is "vulnerable to security threats," according to an Inspector General's report. The department's system also failed a key part of a test performed as part of an audit.

Harris—who is a career civil servant, not an Obama administration appointee—was investigated for the tax issues by the IG a few years ago, he told the committee, according to prepared testimony.

In written testimony, Harris also said he didn't help a relative get a job at the department, just inquired to see if there were positions available. He also said he didn't use his influence to get a friend a contracting position. And he's refiled his tax forms.

Harris has been counseled by the department about his actions, but isn't expected to receive further punishment.

King said in prepared testimony that Harris' actions reflect "a serious lack of judgment." And even though King's predecessors had already taken action, King also talked to Harris about these "serious matters." Harris, he said, "expressed profound remorse" for his actions.

Committee Pushback

But that didn't fly with some lawmakers.

"It's your leadership that's on the line. Is it appropriate to have outside income and not report it?" Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the chairman of the committee, asked King.

And at least one Democrat wasn't satisfied with King's answers.

"Where's the stick as opposed to just the pat? How do people know that they can't be involved in this behavior?" asked Democrat Stacey Plaskett, the delegate from the Virgin Islands. "That's just a way to keep your job."

In response, King noted, "after the counseling, the activities ended" and that the department's general counsel's office had found no violation of law, regulation, or policy. He also said the department has "made tremendous progress" in the area of cybersecurity.

King is also facing challenges in other corners of Congress—Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is unhappy that he hasn't been officially confirmed. King has said it's up to the president to decide whether to submit his nomination to the U.S. Senate. And he has noted that an acting secretary has all the same powers as one that's been confirmed.

Assistant Editor Alyson Klein contributed to this article.

Vol. 35, Issue 20, Pages 16-17

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