Watchdog: Accountability

Ex-Interior Department official accused of harassment, favoritism

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Attention, ladies and older folks of DC: You might want to steer clear of a certain government consultant, if the inspector general for the Interior Department is to be believed.

The IG's report on Anthony Babauta, former assistant secretary of the Interior, reads like a "what not to do" manual for workplace harassment, featuring quotes attributed to Babauta including "Man, your butt is hot!," “I've always thought that a woman should have a pair of w---- shoes to wear" (using a crude term for "prostitute"), and "How do I get rid of the old people?"

Favoritism and taking personal trips on government time are also among the allegations being leveled by former subordinates against Babauta, who was head of Interior's Office of Insular Affairs, which coordinates federal policy for U.S. territories, such as Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The highest-ranking federal official in the Obama administration from Guam, Babauta resigned in January and is now a consultant with a firm in Washington.

Interviews with current and former Insular Affairs employees showed that Babauta was often "unprofessional and inappropriate," the inspector general said.

The "pair of w---- shoes” comment was directed at a female Insular Affairs employee after Babauta saw her footwear, according to the IG. (In another instance, he referred to a second female employee's heels as "hooker" shoes.)

When asked about the incident, the female employee said it never happened. The employee, who is Asian, did however say Babauta often called her "Big China," though she believed he wasn't being mean in doing so.

Another employee told the IG that Babauta frequently said other types of inappropriate comments, but that they "were typical of jokes made by other male colleagues," according to the IG.

One employee witnessed Babauta telling a female colleague she had a "hot ass" multiple times after sitting in a chair she in which she had just been sitting. When asked by the IG, Babauta said he "might have" said such things, but if he did, it was in a "joking way."

One employee described him as a "bully" who liked to intimidate and belittle other employees, often asking, "How do I get rid of the old people?"

There was a feeling in the office that Babauta was eager to get rid of older employees so he could hire younger people who would agree with him, the employee told the IG.

Another employee recalled Babauta yelling at the congressional and legislative affairs staff assistant for the office, frequently using the “the F word.” When the employee later asked Babauta about the altercation, and he appeared pleased with himself for berating an employee, according to the IG.

A female intern who worked at the office for more than a year described Babauta as a "shady guy" to the IG, who often complimented her on her clothes and "sexy shoes." He also offered her alcohol in his office — something he denied to the IG — which prompted her to confront him and tell him she wanted to be treated with respect.

The comments toward stopped after that, she told the IG.

But the accusations against Babauta go deeper than simply saying offensive things, the inspector general said.

Against the advice of his staff, Babauta directed two federal grants worth more than $451,000 to the University of Guam, where he was once employed, the IG said.

The grants supported the Micronesian Center for a Sustainable Future, whose project coordinator was coincidentally an old friend of Babauta. The project coordinator spent more $32,000 of the grant funds on personal purchases, the IG found.

One employee at Insular Affairs told the IG that he was concerned when Babauta hired four young women to work closely with him and travel with him frequently, though he didn't believe any of them were promoted.

Babauta also had a girlfriend outside of his marriage, with whom he often met up while on business trips, according to the IG. She revealed to the IG that he once flew her to New Orleans in March 2010, where they attended a premiere of the HBO television miniseries "The Pacific," which told the story of U.S. Marines fighting in the Pacific in World War II.

Babauta told the IG he "never used government travel for personal gain." He denied all of the other allegations, offering excuses or clarifications.

Babauta told Guam-based KAUM News in March that he was putting the inspector general's investigation behind him. He said he had signed on with Washington-based Crane & Crane Consulting, which his LinkedIn profile identified as his employer on Monday.

Attempts to reach Babauta for comment on Monday were unsuccessful. A man who returned a call in response to a reporter's email to Crane and Crane regarding Babauta said "he's not an employee, he consults with us from time to time and provides client engagements." The man did not give his name and would only identify himsel as "an employee" of the firm.

"In my own mind, I consider it something I'm putting behind me," Babauta told KAUM. " ... I always thought that I had done a good job as assistant secretary. I had a great run and I'm proud of the work that my office carried out."

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Kelly Cohen

Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner