Tech president tightening ethics controls after money scandals

Andrew Gerber was head of the Georgia Tech Research Institute before stepping down in June. CONTRIBUTED.

Andrew Gerber was head of the Georgia Tech Research Institute before stepping down in June. CONTRIBUTED.

Georgia Tech President George P. “Bud” Peterson has agreed to tighten his oversight over employee compliance with ethics policies after a series of scandals caught the attention of his bosses.

The University System of Georgia, as it happens, will have an ethics awareness week in mid-November, noted Chancellor Steve W. Wrigley in an email to Peterson last week. “I expect a strong and visible presence and participation from you and your senior leadership team,” Wrigley wrote.

The email said Peterson had agreed to more substantial changes aimed at tightening controls to avoid more violations of the type that have resulted in the departures of several senior staffers.

Three top administrators recently resigned amid recent internal investigations and another was fired.

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The scandals that prompted their departures were only the latest signs of weak oversight at Tech.

On June 5, Tech removed Andrew Gerber from his leadership role at the affiliated Georgia Tech Research Institute, a spokeswoman said on Friday. Gerber, who was paid about $400,000 a year, subsequently resigned.

Gerber was the focus of an April report by Channel 2 Action News that said GTRI had spent more than $1 million on employee "morale" events. The spending included $73,000 for Georgia Aquarium visits by employees and their families, $109,000 for a staff picnic at Six Flags, $26,000 at a Braves game, nearly $12,000 for go-karts and laser tag at Andretti's and $7,300 at Topgolf, including more than $1,000 in cocktails, beer and wine.

Tech initially defended the use of the federal money, but the tone changed after Wrigley’s team looked into it.

A May 25 letter to Peterson from John M. Fuchko, one of Wrigley’s vice chancellors, describes an ethics reporting system that seemed designed for abuse, with an organizational chart that “substantively and symbolically” marginalized an ethics and compliance officer.

One of the top executives who designed that org chart, Executive Vice President Steven C. Swant, was fired by Peterson last week, the day after he got the results of a separate investigation into Swant's dual roles as both the member of a company board and the leader of the division that hired the company as a vendor for Tech, Channel 2 reported Thursday.

These are only the latest scandals at GTRI. In 2016, three employees were indicted on federal charges involving Georgia Tech purchasing cards and consulting activities. The charges against James G. Maloney, GTRI’s principal research engineer, are still pending. The two other employees pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

Wrigley’s email to Peterson last week gave the Tech president until Aug. 15 to overhaul his ethics oversight, noting the changes they’d agreed upon.

Peterson didn’t wait on one of the measures, sending an all-campus email Thursday that said the internal auditor is already reporting directly to him.