The former director of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center near Brunswick has been sharply criticized for her “poor judgment” that included excessive spending on travel and hiring her husband, according to an investigation.
The Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the training center, opened an investigation last year after receiving dozens of complaints about former training center director Connie Patrick. The investigation’s findings were released Friday
It is unclear if there is a mechanism for recouping the expenditures Patrick made that exceeded what the government allows, or even if there will be an attempt to recover the money. But the training center (FLETC) will be required to make changes to prevent the abuses from happening again.
The inspector general made several recommendations to address the complaints of nepotism and excessive travel spending. FLETC, responding point by point, said it had either already implemented some recommendations or that others were in progress and should be completed by next year.
The training center at Glynco Naval Air Station near Brunswick trains officers and agents from more than 90 law enforcement agencies. Inspectors general, including those for the Department of Homeland Security, are among the law enforcement officers who are trained there in how to conduct investigations and procedures.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier reported that Patrick and other top officials had spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to travel the world just to appear on panels or to attend receptions and ceremonies. Over five years, their numerous trips within the United States and to places like Indonesia, Botswana, Bangkok, Budapest and El Salvador totaled more than $738,000, according to records obtained last year by the AJC under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Then the pressure increased even more last spring when the chairmen of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, after hearing the same allegations, demanded information from the inspector general about the status of its investigation into the center.
Less than a month later, Patrick announced her retirement effective June 30, 2017, ending her 15-year career at the center.
Patrick and the heads of the Senate and House committees could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
HOW WE GOT THE STORY
Acting on a tip, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2017 was the first to obtain spending records and report on lavish travel at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. The AJC later broke news of the investigation by the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Homeland Security. The inspector general made the latest investigation findings public due to the news coverage of this case.
The complaints involved several top FLETC officials, but the inspector general’s report focused only on Patrick’s frequent use of first class and business class travel, luxury hotels and upgrade car rentals. It also examined the hiring of her husband for a temporary post at the training center’s Law Enforcement Leadership Institute.
Patrick, according to the report, claimed she had nothing to do with the decision to hire her husband for a temporary position. She told investigators her proof was recusal letters submitted to an ethics officer at the training center.
“Patrick’s carefully worded testimony and written statement give the impression that Patrick had officially recused herself from the process,” the report said. “However, the recusal letter Patrick provided to (the Office of the Inspector General) as evidence that she had not influenced the hiring process is dated June 9, 2010 — more than six months after her husband was hired.”
Most of the complaints to the inspector general and congressional committees concerned Patrick’s travel expenses. The report lists 44 domestic and international air fares over a 2 1/2 year period that cost about $144,000, and nights spent in luxury hotels. Some of the trips cost three times more than what the federal government allows without prior approval, the report said.
For example, she flew business class to Sydney, Australia, in 2014 at a cost of $14,000, arriving two days before her first meeting.
On one trip, Patrick billed the government for lodging at $449 a night; the federal government’s per-diem rate was $224.
The reported recounted that on one trip: “Patrick rented a luxury SUV for three days at a total cost of $638 when less expensive options were available. On a separate trip, Patrick rented an SUV for a total of $270, but only drove the SUV six miles from the pickup and drop-off location. Under the circumstances, a taxi would have been a more prudent option.”
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The AJC earlier reported that Patrick went to Singapore for 10 days to attend the opening ceremony and a workshop at the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation. The cost was $17,402. Four months later, she spent another $17,000 to go back to Singapore for four days to discuss “INTERPOL training activities,” records show.
Patrick told investigators that her staff arranged her travel and she was unaware rules were broken.
“Patrick’s attempt to shift blame away from herself is unconvincing,” the report said. “Patrick, as the senior-most official … had a responsibility to ensure that her travel complied with the laws and policies governing such travel. Her professed obliviousness suggests either willful ignorance or a dereliction of duty.”
The report said Patrick demonstrated “poor judgment” and a “lack of sensitivity” to the impact her management decisions had on staff morale.
Some of the training center staff had come “to believe that FLETC’s senior management had run amok and the agency was being seriously mismanaged” had “contributed to low morale, mistrust, infighting and political maneuvering that detracted from FLETC’s mission,” the report said.
In its response to the report, FLETC said in an emailed statement that the current director, Thomas Walters, had “pledged to guide FLETC with honor and integrity, and to hold himself, his leadership team, and all of the organization to the same high ethical standards.”