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Anti-Private Prison Group Rips Revolving Door for Federal Employees After CCA Hires Former BOP Director

On June 1, 2011, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit private prison company, announced its most recent acquisition: Former federal Bureau of Prisons director Harley G. Lappin, who was hired by CCA as an executive vice president and the company’s Chief Corrections Officer.

Lappin retired from the BOP in May 2011, several months after his arrest on DUI charges by the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland. According to a police report, his eyes were bloodshot, he had slurred speech and alcohol on his breath, and he failed sobriety tests. In addition to DUI he was charged with reckless driving, negligent driving and failure to obey the instructions of a traffic-control device. In an apologetic memo sent to BOP employees, Lappin cited “a lapse in my judgment ... giving rise to potential embarrassment to the agency.” [See: PLN, May 2011, p.20].

Lappin, who received probation on the DUI-related charges, joins another former BOP director already employed with CCA – J. Michael Quinlan, who was hired by the company in 1993. Quinlan is employed as a senior vice president who oversees CCA’s quality assurance program. He retired as director of the BOP in 1992, several months after settling a lawsuit that accused him of sexually assaulting a male BOP employee in a hotel room. That employee, Steven McPeek, claimed that Quinlan made sexual advances while they were traveling on government business. Although settling the suit, Quinlan denied allegations that he had engaged in sexual assault and harassment. [See: PLN, June 2000, p.20].

At the time of his retirement, which was reportedly due to “health reasons,” Quinlan was also accused of improperly silencing a federal prisoner who claimed that he had sold drugs to then-vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle. That case, involving prisoner Brett C. Kimberlin, was eventually settled in 2003. Quinlan was accused of twice ordering Kimberlin to be placed in segregation to prevent him from speaking with the media. A federal appellate court noted that “The circumstances giving rise to Kimberlin’s claims are largely undisputed.” See: Kimberlin v. Quinlan, 6 F.3d 789 (D.C. Dir. 1993), vacated, 115 S.Ct. 2552 (1995).

Former BOP director Harley Lappin’s decision to join CCA evidences a trend under the Obama administration for former senior federal employees to seek jobs in an industry closely related to their government service. By hiring high-level former federal officials, companies can capitalize on their insider knowledge of government operations, contract requirements and other information that gives them a competitive advantage when dealing with federal agencies. And more significantly, on cronyism as the corporate employees then lobby their former colleagues, underlings and co-workers for business.

This is particularly problematic in terms of prison operations, when companies such as CCA lobby heavily (spending approximately $1 million on the federal level on an annual basis) to influence legislation and obtain lucrative contracts to house federal prisoners in for-profit prisons.

Late last year, President Obama’s nominee to direct the U.S. Marshals Service, Stacia Hylton, was confirmed by the Senate. Hylton had retired from her position as Federal Detention Trustee in February 2010; during her tenure, the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee awarded a number of contracts to GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison firm. Following her retirement Hylton quickly went to work for GEO Group as a consultant, and was reportedly paid at least $112,500. She had formed her consulting company, Hylton Kirk & Associates LLC, more than a month before she retired in apparent anticipation of cashing in by working for the same private prison firms she oversaw as a government employee. [See: PLN, Feb. 2011, p.16].

“This is a prime example of the revolving door between the public and for-profit private sectors turning full circle,” said PLN associate editor Alex Friedmann, in reference to Hylton’s subsequent appointment as director of the U.S. Marshals Service.

The U.S. Marshals house federal detainees in a number of privately-operated prisons, including facilities managed by GEO Group.

Federal ethics rules do not prohibit former high-ranking employees such as Lappin and Hylton from working for private companies, even when those companies contract with the same federal agencies where those former officials were previously employed. An Executive Order issued by President Obama restricts appointees from taking official actions that directly and substantially affect immediate former clients and employers; however, that ethics rule was not applied to Hylton and it has been waived for a number of other federal employees.

According to the Washington Times, “[A] White House official said Ms. Hylton would not require a waiver from Mr. Obama’s ethics rules, which bar appointees for two years from working on matters involving recent clients. So far, more than two dozen high-level appointees have been given full or partial waivers.”

Ken Kopczynski, director of the Private Corrections Working Group (PCWG), which opposes prison privatization, condemned the revolving door between former high-ranking federal officials and private prison companies that receive tens of millions of dollars from federal detention contracts.

“It’s a betrayal of the trust that the public places in government employees when they run to private companies immediately after leaving public service, in order to profit from the experience and knowledge they gained while employed on the taxpayer’s dime,” said Kopczynski. “At the very least this constitutes a conflict of interest that the federal ethics rules should address.”

PCWG has called for expanded ethics rules to prohibit former senior federal officials from working in industries closely related to their government employment. Until that occurs, though, it will be business as usual and the revolving door will continue to turn.

Sources: PCWG press release, CCA press release, Washington Times,

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