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Thune Prepares Rebuke to Lavish-Spending Commerce Official

Amendment would require reporting of spending on office renovations

Sen. John Thune will propose new controls on Commerce Department spending. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Sen. John Thune will propose new controls on Commerce Department spending. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune is launching a new effort to force the Commerce Department to explain the excessive expenditures of a former undersecretary.

During a Wednesday markup, the South Dakota Republican intends to attach language to a bill designed to promote foreign investment that would direct the Commerce Secretary to report on renovations to the office of the undersecretary for international trade. The Commerce Department’s inspector general identified some $50,000 worth of taxpayer-funded renovations to the office.

“Political appointee said conditions in the suite were such that a member of his family ‘almost started to cry’ upon viewing the space. Another
witness who saw the office around this time agreed that it looked ‘a bit rough,’ and said that there were several holes in the walls where pictures had once hung, worn carpet, flaking paint in places, damaged furniture, and some bathroom fixtures may not have worked properly,” the IG report stated.

The report added that several witnesses interviewed said the office in question was really just like any other in the Commerce Department’s aging office building.

The Washington Post identified the “political appointee” in question as Stefan Selig, who had been a senior executive with Bank of America before taking a political appointment to the position of undersecretary for international trade at the Commerce Department.

Selig was confirmed in June 2014 and left the administration last June.

Thune’s amendment, obtained first by Roll Call, wants specific answers about potential violations of the Antideficiency Act, which is the federal law that bars the government from spending money for purposes for which it wasn’t appropriated.

Such a finding could put Selig or other Obama administration officials in legal hot water, as a finding that the spending exceeded a $5,000 limit could prompt a referral for possible prosecution.

The amendment also would impose a new certification requirement that Commerce Department political appointees receive proper training on the regulations governing the spending of federal funds, as well as on the department’s actions to support whistleblowing on potential violations.

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