Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2001-17

Advisory Opinion No. 2001-17
Advisory Opinion No. 2001-17

Application Of The Code To A DSS Grant Proposal

The Department of Social Services (DSS) has requested an advisory opinion regarding a grant proposal it has submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Specifically, the grant would establish a project to enhance the research, data collection and analysis capabilities of DSS in the area of child care. To implement the project DSS proposes to contract with the Child Health and Development Institute (CHDI). CHDI is a non-profit agency affiliated with the University of Connecticut, Yale University and the Children’s Fund of Connecticut. DSS currently contracts with CHDI to provide training. Under the grant proposal, CHDI would hire two full time and one part-time staff utilizing an annual appropriation of $250,000 from HHS, $47,500 from DSS and $25,000 from CHDI.

DSS has a current employee in its Child Care Unit, Ms. Susan Wilson, who, the Department believes, would be ideal for the position of Program Director, if the grant in questioned is obtained. Ms. Wilson is a Lead Planning Analyst for DSS, has been with the Agency for almost 11 years and has worked in the Child Care Unit for six years. Ms. Wilson is presently doing a portion of the work envisioned in the grant proposal. She was involved in developing the concept for the proposal, and wrote portions of the grant submission. Ms. Wilson is also named in the proposal as the Program Director Designee.

Based on the above facts, DSS seeks State Ethics Commission approval for Ms. Wilson’s transfer to the position in question. Specifically, she would resign her state position and become a CHDI employee, with an increase in annual salary from $73,050 to $78,000. (The proposed compensation increase is based upon the loss of certain benefits, increased responsibilities and the uncertainty of long-term employment.)

DSS’ request is problematic in two aspects. First, under 1-84(c) of The Code Of Ethics For Public Officials a state employee is prohibited from using her position for financial gain. By developing the concept for the proposal and writing portions of it, Ms. Wilson risks violation of this use of office provision, if she now accepts a position created under the proposal at a significantly higher salary. See, State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 97-1, 58 Conn. L.J. 35, p. 3E (2/25/97): wherein the Commission held that it would violate 1-84(c) for a university professor to accept outside employment with an entity he was substantially responsible for establishing in his official capacity.

Second, under 1-84b(f) a state employee who, in her last year of service, participated substantially in the award of a state contract valued at $50,000 or more may not, for one year, accept employment with a party to that contract. Given that the Commission has held that a grant implemented by contract falls within the parameters of this provision and given Ms. Wilson’s salient role in developing and pursing the grant proposal, her subsequent acceptance of employment with CHDI again risks violation of the Code.

Notwithstanding these potential conflicts, it should be acknowledged that all parties in this matter have proceeded with apparent good intent. Furthermore, it should be realized that the project in question is a collaborative, non-profit effort intended to benefit Connecticut’s children. Given these factors, the Commission will sanction Ms. Wilson’s acceptance of the Program Director position, provided that, during her first year of employment, she earns no more than her current salary and benefits. This result will remove any impermissible financial gain while allowing DSS to go forward in a manner which its has determined best fulfils the Department’s statutory mission.

By order of the Commission,

Rosemary Giuliano

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:03:54 AM