Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, December 18, 2017

Investigation shows Burwell’s chief of staff pick interfered in University of California audit

Burwell stands behind choice to hire Seth Grossman, who starts Monday

Investigation shows Burwell’s chief of staff pick interfered in University of California audit

University President Sylvia Burwell is standing behind her choice for chief of staff, Seth Grossman, after he and a colleague were found to have interfered with a California state audit into the office of his previous boss, University of California President Janet Napolitano. Grossman is set to start at AU on Dec. 4.

Burwell originally announced the hire on Oct. 30, citing Grossman’s experience as a top official in the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration and then as chief of staff to Napolitano. Napolitano oversees the UC system, which includes 10 campuses and nearly 240,000 students.

But, a recent investigation ordered by the UC Board of Regents said Grossman and another top aide to Napolitano had interfered in an audit of her office.

Under a plan approved by Napolitano, administrators from each UC campus submitted survey responses about Napolitano’s office to her office for review. This was done before those responses were given to the state auditor.

This constituted an interference, according to the investigation report.

The investigation, carried out by an outside law firm and a former California supreme court justice, also found that Grossman and Napolitano’s deputy chief of staff, Bernie Jones, took additional action to “alter or influence the substantive survey answers prepared and submitted” by individual campuses.

“They advised campuses to refrain from including negative information about [the president’s office] and its programs and services,” the report said. “They also provided detailed comments and suggestions regarding the campuses’ survey responses that caused some campuses to revise their responses to reflect more favorably upon [the president’s office].”

Grossman and Jones told investigators that the review was intended only to flag whether the survey responses were within the “scope of the audit,” factually accurate and reflected the views of the campus chancellor, or top administrator. In retrospect, they told investigators, the plan was “a bad decision and an error in judgment.”

Napolitano announced Grossman’s resignation from his UC position on Oct. 30, prior to the release of the investigation report, UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein told The Eagle. Jones’ resignation was announced Nov. 1. Grossman left UC to pursue the chief of staff position at AU, Klein said.

In a statement, Burwell told The Eagle that the University conducted “extensive reference checking and due diligence” when making the decision to hire Grossman.

She said Grossman had been forthcoming about the existence of the investigation and his role in it. Grossman could not be reached for comment by phone or email as of publication time.

“Seth acted in accordance with the advice of UC’s attorneys,” Burwell said. “Seth acknowledges that he made an error in judgment, one he would not repeat.”

Burwell said she undertook another round of review after the release of the investigation report, seeking the counsel of the Board of Trustees and speaking with people who have worked closely with Grossman. They spoke repeatedly about his “integrity and how that was displayed in their interactions with him,” Burwell said.

She also spoke with Grossman and made clear to him “how critical it is to understand” that AU “values shared governance and collaboration among university leaders and stakeholders.” Based on her review, Burwell said Grossman will join her staff as planned.

“Trust and integrity are essential to me,” Burwell said. “Seth reassured me that he shares that commitment.”

hsamsel@theeagleonline.com


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