Federal File

Walletful of Ethics

Cards Prep Education Department Officials for the GOP Convention

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The Department of Education pulled out the stops to alert its personnel attending the Republican National Convention that unethical schmooze-fests with lobbyists would not be tolerated.

Wallet cards issued to each of the department's political appointees last week spelled out the ban, for example, on attending receptions unless they were "attended by 200 or more people representing a diversity of interests or viewpoints."

"An E.D. official may not be 'honored or featured guest' at corporate or education-institution-sponsored event," read one of the bullet points on both sides of the 3½-by-2-inch card.

Officials consulting the crib note would know to avoid accepting gifts except for those worth $20 or less and totaling less than $50 yearly from the same source.

The rules applied to Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who addressed the Republican delegates on Aug. 31.

According to the card, which was derived from White House ethics memoranda, Education Department employees were not allowed to help Mr. Paige craft or practice the six-minute speech, unless it was done on their own time and not in a federal building, and they volunteered with the Republican National Committee and were assigned by the party to do it.

The ethics rules also limited Mr. Secretary Paige's departmental entourage to security and one "communications liaison."

The card warned that Education Department schedulers may coordinate the secretary's schedule "to block out time for political activities, but should not be involved in planning his convention-related schedule."

It also said that per guidance from the White House, no official department activities should be scheduled in New York City during the convention.

The card gave contact numbers, both daytime and after hours, for any department employee in an ethical quandary, to reach Steve Winnick, the department's deputy general counsel in charge of ethics.

Mr. Winnick said the political staff also received "a comprehensive briefing on the Hatch Act [which addresses federal employees' rights on engaging in political activities], and other political activities laws last spring, and again last week in anticipation of the convention."

And a computer-based quiz that Education Department employees must complete every year was tweaked this summer to focus on political activities, Mr. Winnick said in an interview.

Vol. 24, Issue 02, Page 32

Published in Print: September 8, 2004, as Walletful of Ethics

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