Richard Ruggiero, chief of the Division of International Conservation at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, may have violated federal ethics rules by his involvement in agency grants that provided monetary benefit to a family member, according to a Feb. 20, 2018, Department of Interior Inspector General report.
“We found that Ruggiero violated federal laws and regulations by participating in an FWS cooperative agreement that financially benefited his family member, and neither Ruggiero nor his family member disclosed their relationship in writing to the FWS,” the report said.
According to the IG, the DIC awarded a $126,871 cooperative agreement to establish a professional training program to the nonprofit organization International Fund for Animal Welfare on August 20, 2014, just over a week after Ruggiero was selected as the DIC chief.
Ruggiero’s family member was listed on the IFAW application for the agreement as an instructor in the training program and was paid $5,684.29 for her involvement.
Ruggiero also reportedly approved a $30,000 modification to the award in September 2015, though he initially told the IG that he was not involved in the cooperative agreement.
According to the report, Ruggiero also sent an email containing non-public information about the agreement to his family member.
“One of Ruggiero’s senior employees knew that Ruggiero’s family member was involved with the agreement, and that Ruggiero authorized additional funding to the agreement. The senior employee later consulted with the FWS Ethics Office on behalf of Ruggiero, but failed to follow the guidance he received to have Ruggiero draft a recusal memorandum and submit it to the ethics office for review. In addition, other FWS employees also knew about Ruggiero’s potential conflict of interest and did not report it to their supervisors or to the FWS Ethics Office,” the report said.
Ruggiero reportedly did craft a recusal memo for the cooperative agreement in August 2016, but only sent it to two people and did not clarify who would be taking his responsibility or why he was recusing himself. These limitations prevented the memo from serving as an official recusal and, according to the IG, Ruggiero continued to be involved in the agreement.
The IG also found that Ruggiero had been a decision maker on two other FWS grants in which his family member was involved, though detailed reports of that involvement were unavailable through the FWS’s electronic records-keeping system.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia declined prosecution on the case, and the IG provided a copy of the report to the acting FWS director for any action deemed appropriate.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.