Smithsonian Institution: Use of Appropriated Funds to Pay Dr. Mitchell's Legal Fees

T-OGC-92-2: Mar 4, 1992

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GAO discussed the propriety of the Smithsonian Institution's use of $284,000 in appropriated funds to pay for the legal expenses of a Fish and Wildlife Service zoologist on detail to the Smithsonian. GAO noted that the zoologist: (1) informally agreed with the Smithsonian to accomplish several work-related tasks while on a 1988 vacation trip to China; (2) did not use or request Smithsonian funds for the vacation, and he used annual leave; and (3) due to his involvement in a big-game hunt in China, became the subject of federal investigations regarding violations of the Endangered Species Act, improper use of his position and duties in outside employment, and personal financial interest in and illegal use of a nonprofit organization that he established. GAO also noted that its July 1991 decision concluded that the Smithsonian should not have used appropriated funds, since: (1) the zoologist personally chose to undertake the activities, on his own time, and without benefit of Smithsonian funds; (2) the record did not show any direct benefits accruing to the Smithsonian as a result of the trip; (3) the Smithsonian failed to seek authority for legal representation from the Department of Justice; and (4) legal representation is typically unavailable when employees are subjects of federal criminal investigations.