On eve of hearing, ex-agency official accused of hiring friend

By Corbin Hiar | 06/23/2016 07:51 AM EDT

The Interior Department’s former regulatory chief "used her position and influence" to hire a young man who appears to be a family friend over more qualified veteran applicants, an internal watchdog revealed late yesterday afternoon.

The Office of Inspector General investigation was released just hours before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is planning to scrutinize misconduct at Interior — the third time in less than two months that the agency’s ethical violations have been the focus of congressional hearings (E&E Daily, June 20).

Although the OIG has released scores of reports in recent months exposing potential violations of laws and policies at the agency, this is the first allegation of wrongdoing to reach directly into the office of Secretary Sally Jewell — and it could figure prominently at today’s hearing.

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The main focus of the new report is Fay Iudicello, the former director of Jewell’s Office of Executive Secretariat and Regulatory Affairs. She and her staff were responsible for executive correspondence, committee management, document production management and Freedom of Information Act responses.

In May of last year, Iudicello, with the help of two unnamed subordinates, selected a recent college graduate who is related to her ex-husband for a similarly unnamed management analyst position over two military veterans with masters degrees, the OIG found. Iudicello, who is 71 years old, retired sometime between then and the release of the report.

The work experience of the improperly hired management analyst described in the report matches the LinkedIn profile of Nicholas DiProfio.

Neither Iudicello nor DiProfio responded to E&E Daily‘s requests for comment on the OIG investigation.

DiProfio told investigators that he met his future boss at a family funeral when he was a college freshman. At that time, "they talked about his interest in politics and Iudicello told him that he should contact her if he was ever interested in an internship," the report says.

About three years later, DiProfio landed a summer gig in the Office of Executive Secretariat and Regulatory Affairs with the help of Iudicello, the OIG found. One of her employees then helped him get a four-month internship in the office of Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.).

Iudicello acknowledged knowing DiProfio through her ex-husband but claimed in the report that he wasn’t a friend of her family. Emails uncovered by the OIG, however, show that the two coordinated Thanksgiving travel plans in 2013, while DiProfio was working on Capitol Hill.

After DiProfio graduated from Alvernia University the following May, the former regulatory chief tried to hire him as a correspondence specialist.

He failed to make the position’s list of qualified applicants because he didn’t score high enough on a required exam and veterans, who benefit from hiring preferences, also applied. As a result, Iudicello’s subordinate told the OIG, her boss didn’t select anyone for the position.

Iudicello instead helped DiProfio get an analyst contractor position in her office with Design 2 Delivery Inc. One of her employees gave his resume to the contracting company. An official there "said this was the first time [the regulatory office] had referred a potential employee by name to work on the contract."

After DiProfio had worked nearly a year with the contractor, Iudicello’s subordinate said her boss directed her to readvertise the correspondence specialist position. DiProfio submitted an application and again did not qualify for the position "because veterans with master’s degrees had also applied."

Iudicello did not want to select either of the two most qualified veterans due to a previous experience working with a vet suffering from "post-traumatic stress" who had to be let go, her subordinate told the OIG. As a result, Iudicello did not want to hire another veteran unless she could "see the disability," the subordinate said.

The subordinate claims Iudicello then directed her to encourage the qualified veterans to withdraw their applications so that they could "get ‘down to the next’ ranking level" where DiProfio was, the report says. One vet had a Master of Science degree in human resource management; the other qualified veteran had a Master of Business Administration.

When human resources officials at Interior realized the subordinate had called the veterans, Iudicello decided to let the qualified candidates’ list expire, the subordinate told the OIG.

Third time is the charm for DiProfio

The former regulatory chief finally managed to hire DiProfio by allegedly working with her subordinate and another employee to craft a job announcement for a management analyst position that called for work experience perfectly matching that of her family friend.

When DiProfio was identified as the most qualified candidate, Iudicello gave him the job without putting together a hiring panel, reading any other resumes or interviewing any other applicants, the report says.

"The only one she [Iudicello] was interested [in] was" DiProfio, the subordinate told the OIG. While the subordinate said her boss didn’t direct her to not follow normal hiring procedures, "it was implied in every way."

Both officials who admitted to working with Iudicello to circumvent fair hiring practices told the OIG that they were afraid of retaliation from their boss.

Iudicello, on the other hand, "said she was not involved in the job announcement process or the hiring process," according to the report. The former director told the OIG that she simply selected DiProfio based on the recommendations of her subordinate and other employee.

The report was recently provided to Tommy Beaudreau, Jewell’s chief of staff, for review and action.

"The Department is exploring all of our options for holding employees accountable for conduct identified in the report and for addressing management changes to ensure that the kinds of activities identified in the report are not repeated," an Interior spokeswoman said when asked what the agency has done in response to the investigation.

"We are deeply troubled by the OIG’s report and take these findings very seriously," she added. "We are particularly offended by the treatment of veterans who had applied for the position at issue, as well as by the attitude towards veterans that is reflected by statements and actions attributed in the Report. This attitude and behavior is wrong and completely unacceptable."

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