The Project On Government Oversight did a double-take at news that a former General Services Administration (GSA) official and her husband were indicted for fraud and nepotism. Bells went off when we saw that the ex-official in question is Helen “Renee” Ballard and that the alleged wrongdoing involved tech contracting giant CACI International.
According to the indictment, Renee, a supervisory contract specialist at GSA from 2006 to 2011, and her husband, Robert “Steve” Ballard, fraudulently induced CACI to hire Steve and several of the Ballards’ relatives to work on a contract Renee was overseeing. Renee and Steve are accused of submitting scores of fake employment applications and doctored résumés to CACI and other contractors and several federal agencies to land plum jobs for Renee’s husband, brother, sister-in-law, and father, and the daughter of one of Renee’s GSA co-workers. Renee herself worked at CACI from June 2003 through September 2004.
The Ballards face up to 20 years in prison and forfeiture of $1.3 million if convicted on the charges, which include conspiracy, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and false statements.
Renee Ballard first came to POGO’s attention in 2006 when we were investigating the GSA’s decision to hire CACI to help process suspension and debarment cases. Documents POGO obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show Renee pitching the idea to CACI and, two weeks later, approving a contract modification to hire six CACI consultants. Interestingly, it was Renee who responded to our FOIA request and provided those documents.
POGO was unaware at the time that Renee had worked at CACI less than two years earlier. Nonetheless, we were still troubled by the arrangement. CACI, which was considered for suspension or debarment by the GSA in 2004, would have access to sensitive information about other federal contractors. We were also concerned about the cost of using contractor employees, whether the work had been competitively awarded, and whether assisting the suspension and debarment decision-making process was an inherently governmental function that should be performed by government employees.
In December 2007, a GSA Inspector General (IG) investigation largely exonerated the agency. It found the work was “appropriate and not inherently governmental” and had been competitively awarded. However, the IG recommended the GSA avoid using contractors to perform suspension and debarment work in the future, partially validating our concerns. The IG also found the contract lacked a sufficiently clear statement of CACI’s responsibilities and, despite the sensitive nature of the work, none of the CACI personnel had the required clearances or signed non-disclosure agreements.
The IG did not mention Renee and her connection to CACI. The indictment’s timeline of events indicates she was still far off federal investigators’ radar. The IG began probing the nepotism allegations in April 2011.
The indictment of Renee and Steve Ballard is a strange coda to the 2006 GSA hiring of CACI. Until the indictment, the incident exemplified the risks of governmental reliance on contractors. Now, it also stands as a cautionary tale about the conflicts of interest arising from the revolving door between the federal government and contractors.