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Education Official on Congressional Hot Seat Over Financial Allegations

By Alyson Klein — February 02, 2016 2 min read
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A high-ranking official at the U.S. Department of Education collapsed after testifying before the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee Tuesday, after undergoing a host of ethics questions from lawmakers on his failure to pay taxes and report income from a side business, and allegations that he helped get a friend a government contract.

Danny Harris, the department’s chief information officer, 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 IG.

Harris is a part of a team that oversees cybersecurity at the department, an issue that the House panel looked into in November. The committee found that even though the department holds 139 million Social Security numbers, it is “vulnerable to security threats,” according to an Inspector General’s report. What’s more, the department’s system failed a key part of a test, performed as part of a required audit.

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

The continued controversy surrounding Harris’ activities presents one more management challenge for the newly minted acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., who also testified before the panel Tuesday. King has a full plate of business to tackle during his single year in office, including implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

King is already facing challenges in other corners of Congress—Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is unhappy that he hasn’t been officially confirmed, for instance.

In written testimony, Harris 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 contacting 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. No criminal charges have been filed, according to the AP.

King said in prepared testimony that Harris’ actions reflect “a serious lack of judgement.” 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.

But that didn’t fly with some lawmakers.

“You’re failing,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the chairman of the committee told King, according to the Associated Press. And “I don’t buy it,” Chaffetz added, referring to Harris’ description of his car-detailing and home theater installation as a simple hobby, and not a full-fledged business.

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