Advisory Opinion No. 2012-12 Advisory Opinion No. 2012-12 Re: Peter C. Naumann QUESTION PRESENTED The Petitioner, a senior environmental scientist at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, a state employee position, requests an advisory opinion regarding whether the Code of Ethics prohibits him from working as a Technical Service Provider for the Rhode Island Natural Resources Conservation Service upon his retirement from state employment, anticipated on June 30, 2012. RESPONSE It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, a senior environmental scientist at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, a state employee position, is not prohibited by the Code of Ethics from working as a Technical Service Provider for the Rhode Island Natural Resources Conservation Service upon his retirement from state employment, provided that: 1) he does not have any personal involvement with a matter before his former agency for a period of one-year following his official date of severance; and 2) he does not disclose confidential information he may have obtained during the course of his state employment. The Petitioner is a senior environmental scientist at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (“DEM”), working as an inspector in the Office of Compliance and Inspection. He represents that he has been employed by DEM since 1997. He states that his duties as an inspector include investigating complaints and inspecting sites for violations of environmental laws and regulations concerning water pollution and failed onsite wastewater treatment systems. In the course of his work at DEM, he informs that he has investigated complaints against farmers and has inspected farms for violations relating to water pollution and wastewater treatment. He advises that his work generally involves investigating potential violations and writing detailed reports of his findings. However, he states that he neither takes part in the enforcement process nor has any direct authority to compel compliance by alleged violators. In his private capacity, the Petitioner represents that he has become a certified Technical Service Provider (“TSP”), specializing in the development of Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (“Comprehensive Plans”) for farmers enrolled in certain Rhode Island Natural Resources Conservation Service (“NRCS”) conservation programs. The NRCS is a federal agency within the United States Department of Agriculture that works with the people of Rhode Island to improve and protect their soil, water and other natural resources. He informs that the purpose of TSP work is to help farmers achieve Comprehensive Plans that conserve natural resources and prevent, or occasionally remediate, environmental problems. He advises that a farmer selects a TSP from an approved NRCS list as part of the farmer’s application for an NRCS farming grant. He informs that he will not solicit farmers for TSP work. He states that TSP work is advisory in nature and farmers are not obligated to implement the Comprehensive Plans prepared by a TSP. He represents that Comprehensive Plans are only prepared for the farmers and NRCS purposes and, as such, are not submitted to DEM. After his retirement from state employment, anticipated on June 30, 2012, the Petitioner states that he would like to work as a TSP in Rhode Island. Cognizant of the Code of Ethics, the Petitioner represents that he will not enter into a contract to provide TSP services to farmers whose farms he has previously investigated or inspected as part of his official duties at DEM because of the confidential information he may have obtained in the course of his official work. The Petitioner also affirmatively represents that his TSP work will not require him to represent farmers/clients before DEM and that he does not anticipate having any interactions with DEM on behalf of farmers/clients. Given the above representations, the Petitioner seeks advice as to whether the Code of Ethics prohibits or in any way restricts his proposed work as a TSP for NRCS upon his retirement from state employment, given his current position as an inspector at DEM. The Code of Ethics prohibits a public official from representing himself or any other person before any state or municipal agency of which he is a member or by which he is employed. R. I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(e)(1); Commission Regulation 36-14-5016. Section 36-14-5(e)(4) extends this prohibition for a period of one-year after the petitioner has officially severed his position with the agency. This prohibition is absolute and applies to the entire agency, including all of its offices, sections, programs or divisions. A.O. 2003-51. This “revolving door” language is provided so as to minimize any influence the former public official may have in a matter before his former agency. Additionally, the Code of Ethics also prohibits the use and/or disclosure of confidential information acquired by a public official or employee during the course of, or by reason of, his official employment, particularly for the purpose of obtaining financial gain. See §§ 36-14-5(b), (c) & (d). The Commission has issued numerous advisory opinions interpreting § 36-14-5(e)(4)’s requirements with respect to former state employees interacting with their former agency during the one year following the date of severance from their state employment. See e.g. A.O. 2008-62 (opining that a former social caseworker in the Long Term Care Unit within the Department of Human Services (“DHS”), while not prohibited from working as an independent contractor with an attorney whose practice consists of filing medical assistance applications on behalf of his clients with DHS, must avoid any direct contact with DHS, and refrain from appearing before DHS or any of its members or staff, for a period of one year after the date of her official severance from her position); A.O. 2006-42 (opining that the former Rhode Island State Fire Marshal could provide consulting services to private companies, national services, and schools, provided that he did not represent his employers’ or his business associates’ interests before his former agency for a period of one year following his official severance from service, and that he did not disclose confidential information obtained during the course of his state employment). See also A.O. 2010-23; A.O. 2008-6; A.O. 2008-2; A.O. 2005-54; A.O. 2003-43; A.O. 2001-33. In the present matter, the Petitioner represents that his TSP work for NRCS will not require him to appear or even interact with DEM. He further represents that he will not enter into a contract with farmers for TSP work if he has previously interacted with those farmers as part of his official duties at DEM, due to the confidential information he may have obtained as a result of his DEM work. Additionally, any Comprehensive Plans he prepares will only be for NRCS purposes and will not be submitted to DEM. For all of these reasons, it is the opinion of the Ethics Commission that the Petitioner is not prohibited by the Code of Ethics from working as a TSP for the NRCS upon his retirement from state employment, anticipated on June 30, 2012. Finally, the Petitioner should remain cognizant at all times that he may not use any confidential information that he may have obtained while working at DEM for financial gain. Code Citations: § 36-14-5(b) § 36-14-5(c) § 36-14-5(d) § 36-14-5(e) Commission Regulation 36-14-5016 Related Advisory Opinions: A.O. 2010-23 A.O. 2008-62 A.O. 2008-6 A.O. 2008-2 A.O. 2006-42 A.O. 2005-54 A.O. 2003-51 A.O. 2003-43 A.O. 2001-33 Keywords: Post Employment Private Employment Revolving Door  The Petitioner’s initial April 10, 2012 Advisory Opinion request contained information relating to current and post retirement circumstances but did not clearly identify a question presented. However, after discussions with the Petitioner and DEM Executive Counsel, the issue was narrowed down to the discussion in the instant advisory opinion and is also reflected in the Petitioner’s Second Supplemental Information Letter regarding his request for an Advisory Opinion, received by the Commission on May 21, 2012.