Making the Business of Government a Family Business


Last week, we learned from the Washington Post that the Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, the wife of Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, works for a firm, ICG Government, which the paper describes as “a consulting company for technology firms seeking government contracts.” The firm itself says,

The essence of what we do is simple: we help people better understand today’s government information technology market. To whom we cater is twofold, both to government executives and industry leaders. How we do it is through education — through training seminars, executive forums, consulting, and legislative analysis.

In that capacity, the article informs us that

Devolites Davis told The Post that she does represent clients with interests in the federal sector — three of her four assignments involve reaching out to federal officials.

So let’s see–the wife of the chairman of the committee that oversees how government does what it does (which includes federal contracting) contacts federal officials on behalf of her clients who, to use IGC’s formulation, want to “better understand today’s government information technology market.” While some–including an insider in the government high tech sector and a number of thoughtful commenters here seem to feel this isn’t a problem, I tend to think it is.

Broadly speaking, I don’t think we want relatives of members of Congress to make the government a family business, particularly in areas like campaign fundraising or lobbying. We don’t want a Congressman’s income to be in any way connected with the special interests that fund their campaigns or seek federal favors. Further, we don’t want our federal procurement officers or IRS auditors or environmental regulation writers any other federal employee put in the awkward position of having to worry about saying “no” to the spouse of a member. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that the wife of a powerful committee chairman gets treated better than the average person calling a federal office for help.

As for Davis and his wife and her work for ICG Government, the House Ethics Committee signed off on the arrangement, noting however the House rules and federal regulations that prevent government officials from profiting from their jobs, and going on to state…

Ms. Devolites should avoid discussing her relationship to you as a Member of Congress when soliciting either clients for ICG or participants for ICG-sponsored conferences. One or more of the provisions outlined above may be implicated if she were to invoke your name or position in Congress when soliciting clients or conducting other activities on behalf of the firm, whether or not the client was previously known to you or your wife. Thus, as a general matter, Ms. Devolites should not use her relationship to you in connection with any activity in which she is involved on behalf of her business interests, so as to avoid a claim that you are allowing your official title to be used for private gain.

Now, it’s probably important to note that Ms. Devolites started working with ICG before she and Tom Davis married; that she does have some experience with government information technology issues (she’s a state senator in Virginia with experience in technology issues. But I found it interesting that, alone among the posted bios for ICG personnel, she gives information about her marital status, noting that her husband is “Congressman Tom Davis”. Don Upson, the firm’s founder, and Caroline T. Boyd, the firm’s vice president, give no information about their marital status–whether either is single, married, divorced or widowed, we have no idea. Why is Ms. Devolites’ marital status relevant information for a company Web site bio, whereas Mr. Upson’s and Ms. Boyd’s are not?