WASHINGTON — A senior Education Department official apologized on Tuesday for what he acknowledged was poor judgment related to working on his side businesses with subordinates, failing to pay taxes on his profits and awarding a government contract to a friend's company.
"I take full responsibility for how some of my actions have allowed questions to arise about my judgment. I view my behavior as unacceptable and I have learned from this experience," Danny Harris, the department's chief information officer, said Tuesday in testimony before a congressional hearing. "Poor judgment. I make no excuses."
Harris received counseling from several senior department officials and was not expected to receive any further punishment. Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges related to his acknowledged failure to report income from his side business — which he described as a hobby — to the Internal Revenue Service.
Tuesday's hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the ethics complaints against Harris represents the first detailed public discussion of the 2013 investigation by the Education Department's inspector general.
The inspector general concluded that Harris operated businesses for home theater installation and car detailing, paying two subordinates for their work on these side jobs, and failed to report at least $10,000 in income as required by ethics rules in his public financial disclosure report nor did he on his taxes. He used his official email account for outside business work.
Harris also participated on a panel that awarded a contract to a company owned by a friend, but his participation didn't result in the contract being improperly awarded, according to prepared testimony by Deputy Inspector General Sandra D. Bruce. Harris also took actions to help a relative get a job at the department and made a $4,000 loan to a subordinate.
Harris and acting Education Department secretary, John B. King Jr., who joined the department last year, were grilled for three hours by Republicans and Democrats on the panel, most expressing deep skepticism about whether Harris' car detailing and home theater installing activities were considered merely a hobby.
"I don't buy it," Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah said repeatedly.
King, appearing before Congress for the first time as acting secretary, said Harris' actions "reflect a serious lack of judgment" and that he had also counseled Harris.
Republicans and Democrats alike had sharp questions for King about how the case was handled and what kind of a message it sends to federal workers.
The counseling Harris received, said Democrat Rep. Stacey Plaskett, was merely a way for Harris to keep his job.
Harris, who started with the department as an intern in 1985, received counseling from a department ethics official and information on dealing with work relationships; he otherwise faced no additional consequences for his actions. The U.S. Attorneys' Office for the District of Columbia declined prosecution, citing the option of administrative remedies.
In June, the department's acting deputy secretary said Harris didn't violate the law or agency regulations. He said Harris had displayed lapses in judgment but that Harris had received counseling and written guidance.
Harris said he worked to mentor his staff and help them grow professionally, "whether that means developing skills for the job they are in or should they have an interest in areas outside of the office."
He said staffers approached him "expressing an interest in benefiting from my experience" and he had compensated them for their work.
"At no time, however, did my personal relationships cloud my professional judgment."
Harris said he has stopped installing home theater equipment, is no longer friends with the owner of the company that won the Education Department contract and doesn't accept money for detailing cars. He said he also amended his taxes to account for his unreported earnings.
Harris said he inquired about a job opening for a relative but otherwise did not involve himself in the process. The department's ethics official said Harris didn't tamper in the hiring process.
Associated Press writer Jennifer C. Kerr contributed to this report.
Follow Tami Abdollah on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/latams .