Last week brought news that former General Services Administration (GSA) official Helen Rene’e Ballard and her husband, Robert “Steve” Ballard, were sentenced to prison for submitting doctored applications and résumés to numerous government contractors and federal agencies to land jobs for Steve and various relatives.
The Ballards were originally charged with 12 criminal counts—including conspiracy, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and false statements—and faced up to 20 years in prison and forfeiture of $1.3 million. Prosecutors ultimately dropped most of the charges, however, and allowed the Ballards to plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy. Rene’e and Steve were sentenced to prison terms of 18 months and 12 months and a day, respectively, and were each ordered to pay $215,190 in restitution. (None of these penalties stem from violating the federal anti-nepotism law, the official prohibition on government officials hiring relatives at agencies they oversee, which carries no punishment beyond withholding federal funds from the employed relative.)
We blogged about this case last year when the Ballards were indicted, pointing out that Rene’e and POGO’s paths had crossed once before. It was Rene’e who responded to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents about GSA’s troubling decision to hire large federal contractor CACI International to assist the agency’s suspension and debarment office. And, as the FOIA’d documents showed, it was Rene’e who helped CACI win the GSA contract—aspects of which did not sit well with the GSA Inspector General according to an audit released the following year.
What we did not know at the time—and did not find out until the indictment 10 years later—is that Rene’e had briefly worked at CACI before she worked at GSA, and CACI was allegedly one of the contractors with which the Ballards had fraudulently obtained jobs for Steve and their relatives.
Rene’e and Steve Ballard’s recent appearance in the news and involvement in this incident is a reminder of the need to guard against conflicts of interest arising from the revolving door between the federal government and contractors, and of the long-lasting effects not doing so can have on the effectiveness of government.