That AT&T just won an eight-figure contract to provide the federal government’s General Services Administration with new mobile devices isn’t itself particularly notable.
What is: Casey Coleman, an AT&T executive responsible for “delivering IT and professional services to federal government customers,” oversaw the GSA’s information technology division and its $600 million IT budget as recently as January.
Officials both at the GSA and AT&T say all federal rules and regulations limiting former government officials’ interactions with current government employees have been followed during the contract bidding process.
“We won the contract on the merits," AT&T spokesman Jim Greer told the Center for Public Integrity. "GSA has been a customer of ours for decades. As in the past, our work on the [request for proposal] adhered to all GSA and federal guidelines.”
Added GSA spokeswoman Jackeline Stewart: "Casey Coleman was long gone before we received any proposals and had no involvement with the evaluation of the proposals that GSA received ... She had no direct or indirect part or involvement in the procurement or subsequent award. AT&T was awarded the contract through a competitive process.”
While there’s no evidence anything illegal took place, the public still should be aware of, and potentially worried about, Coleman’s spin through the revolving door between government and companies that profit from government, said Michael Smallberg, an investigator at the nonpartisan watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.
“Someone in Coleman’s position can provide some really valuable advice and guidance behind the scenes that helps win a contract,” Smallberg said. “The concern is that this can give one company an advantage over another, and you want to make sure the government is getting the best deal for taxpayers.”
Federal government employees leaving public service for lucrative private sector jobs is commonplace. The Project on Government Oversight has called on the federal government to — among other actions — ban political appointees and some senior-level staffers from seeking employment with contractors that “significantly benefited” from policies they helped formulate during their tenure in government.
Former high-level government staffers, while generally prohibited from directly wrangling with their previous employer, may still play certain behind-the-scenes roles as private companies compete for lucrative contracts with government agencies.
For example, voluminous federal regulations state that “nothing … prohibits a former employee from providing assistance to another person, provided that the assistance does not involve a communication to or an appearance before an employee of the United States.”
Coleman, whose official title is client executive vice president of AT&T Government Solutions, could not herself be reached for comment. Upon joining AT&T, she said she looked forward to "helping federal customers achieve their mission in innovative, strategic ways by combining AT&T’s impressive solutions portfolio with my many years of experience in the federal IT sector.”
Greer, the AT&T spokesman, declined to comment on Coleman’s work at the company.
Verizon currently holds the contract that the GSA awarded to AT&T.
Stewart, the GSA spokeswoman, says the contract is worth $12.8 million and includes about 12,000 mobile devices.
Coleman’s successor at GSA as chief information officer, Sonny Hashmi, wrote in an email Monday to employees that the new contract with AT&T will help the agency manage “IT and telecommunications costs more efficiently while continuing to deliver the mobile phone services you need to work anywhere.”
Verizon spokesman Kevin King declined to comment on Coleman or AT&T’s new contract with the GSA.
The GSA, which employs about 11,500 full-time staffers, manages government real estate and leads government procurement and technology services efforts. As part of its responsibilities, it oversees about 9,600 federally owned or leased buildings.