January 17, 2020

Harris, Colleagues Question the Revolving Door Between Federal Agencies and the Private Detention Industry

High-level ICE and BOP officials are leaving their posts to work at the same companies they regulated, raising concerns about corruption and compliance with federal law

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Thursday joined Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), along with Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), in sending a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) questioning their anti-corruption policies and practices after a series of high-profile officials responsible for oversight of the private prison and detention industry have left to join the biggest companies in the industry.

In the last three years, ICE's acting director for the New Orleans field office left to work for LaSalle, a company that operates six facilities in the region; ICE's official in charge of contracting left to work as a paid witness for private prison company GEO in a lawsuit alleging mistreatment of detained people; BOP's assistant director, who was involved in oversight of private prisons, left to become GEO's director of operations; and the acting head of ICE left to become Executive Vice President for contract compliance at GEO.

"The growing connections between the federal government and the for-profit prison and detention industry are made more troubling by the fact that in recent years, a number of key officials have left ICE and BOP to work for private prison and immigration detention companies -- with several of these officials in positions where they work with or solicit business from their former colleagues," wrote the lawmakers. "This pattern of high-level ICE and BOP officials leaving their posts to work for the same companies that they were in charge of regulating raises questions and concerns about corruption and compliance with federal contracting and conflict of interest law."

In their letter, the lawmakers note particular concerns about compliance with federal contracting and conflict of interest law, including:

  • Federal contracting law, which prohibits former federal agency officials from receiving compensation as "an employee, officer, director, or consultant" from a contractor that received an award of at least $10 million for at least one year after leaving the agency.
  • Federal conflict of interest laws, which ban federal employees from participating "personally and substantially" in any particular matters that impact their financial interest or the financial interest of "any person or organization with whom [the employee] is negotiating or has any arrangement concerning prospective employment."
  • Federal regulations, which further prohibit employees from working on particular matters if they are "seeking employment" with a person or organization impacted by the matter, even if negotiations are not ongoing.
  • President Trump's executive order on ethics commitments by executive branch appointees, which restricts agency appointees from lobbying their former agency for five years.

The lawmakers have requested that the agencies' response describe how they are working to ensure compliance with federal law and prevent corruption and conflicts of interest.

Full text of the letter can be found here.

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