MSPB exonerates Prouty for role in GSA's Western Regions Conference

Wednesday - 3/13/2013, 5:12am EDT

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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Paul Prouty, the former Region 8 commissioner of the General Services Administration's Public Buildings Service caught up in the Western Regions Conference scandal, cleared his name of any wrongdoing and could be heading back to the agency.

A Merit Systems Protection Board administrative law judge ruled Monday that GSA wrongfully terminated Prouty in June 2012 and awarded him back pay for the last nine months and told GSA to put him back in his former job.

"Mr. Prouty is very pleased with the decision," said Bill Bransford, Prouty's attorney and a partner with the firm Shaw, Bransford and Roth, in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio. "I was never able to understand what the evidence was that said Paul Prouty did anything wrong. That was the main argument we made throughout the case."

Shaw, Bransford and Roth have a show, FEDTalk, on Federal News Radio.

No evidence to support allegations

MSPB administrative judge Patricia Miller wrote in her decision, "the agency has failed to submit into the board's record sufficient evidence to prove by a preponderance of evidence the charge of conduct unbecoming a federal employee. Therefore, given this lack of evidence, the agency's action removing the appellant from the federal service must be reversed."

Paul Prouty, former Region 8 administrator, Public Building Service, GSA

GSA has until April 15 to decide whether to appeal Miller's decision to the full MSPB board.

"We are disappointed with the Merit Systems Protection Board's ruling on this personnel matter. We are exploring all of our available options, including an appeal," said GSA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara in an email statement. "GSA has taken strong action against those officials whom we believe were responsible and will continue to do so where appropriate. The new GSA leadership has taken significant steps over the past year to improve internal controls and oversight at the agency. To date, GSA has already saved $28 million in conference and travel spending."

Prouty findings caused then-GSA Administrator Martha Johnson to resign and two other senior officials to be fired. Current acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini has been making major changes to the agency's structure over the last 11 months.

Bransford said Prouty's win at MSPB showed GSA went too far in correcting the problems the IG found. He said he's unsure how the agency will respond.

"I think there was an effort to have a very broad overreach by GSA in the aftermath of the IG investigations release, and the political reaction to it to try to find as many scapegoats as the agency could. I think Paul Prouty was one of them," he said. "This shows the agency acted without cause. I don't know if the agency is going to look at this based on what the judge said in her decision in a rational, balanced way or if they will be motivated by a continuing of the same irrationality that led to the decision to go after Mr. Prouty in the first place last year."

Innocent on all four charges

GSA made four claims against Prouty and the judge found no evidence to support any of them.

One of the allegations was Prouty acted in a way that was unbecoming of a federal official for approving "questionable and excessive expenditures."

The judge wrote in her decision, "Except for a few discrete receipts and costs summaries, the agency failed to submit into the record most of the evidence underlying the OIG's conclusions. Therefore, the OIG's report constitutes multiple levels of hearsay. The agency stated at the hearing that it was unable to submit information because of ongoing criminal investigations not involving the appellant. However, at no time during the processing of this appeal did the agency request a stay because material evidence needed to support the agency's disciplinary action against the appellant could not be submitted into the appeal record due to ongoing criminal investigations."

In a second allegation, GSA claimed Prouty "failed to prevent impermissible spending and violations of various procurement laws, rules and regulations and applicable comptroller general and GSA orders and failed to curtail the participation of others in prohibited activities."

Miller said she found no evidence to support that charge, "the record is devoid of any evidence that the appellant had any actual knowledge about any of the expenditures [Acting PBS Commissioner Linda] Chero identified as prohibited activities. Region 9 was responsible for procuring the items."

Bransford said the judge found Prouty's testimony "very credible," and the evidence to show any connection was "nonexistent."

He added there were very limited discussions before going to MSPB about a possible settlement, but nothing materialized on either side.

Prouty's plan is to go back to GSA Region 8 as the PBS commissioner. Scott Conner currently is the acting PBS commissioner, according to GSA's website.

"GSA has to put Mr. Prouty back to work in the regional commissioner level. Pending an appeal, they have the right to say it would be unduly disruptive to return to that position, but they still have to restore him to the pay and benefits of the position so they could make that decision," Bransford said. "I don't think it would be unduly disruptive. I don't know how they would feel about that. Mr. Prouty has had an extremely impressive career and would know how to conduct himself in an appropriate manner."

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