EXCLUSIVE: Choice of shipping exec for post reviewed

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EXCLUSIVE:

The Department of Homeland Security says it is reviewing a last-minute Bush administration appointment of a shipping industry executive and registered lobbyist to serve on a government maritime security board, even as his company faced serious allegations of defrauding the U.S. military in war zones.

The appointment of Earl Agron, vice president of security for American President Lines Ltd. (APL), has raised questions in part because he continues to lobby on issues under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard’s Maritime Security Advisory Committee - the same committee on which he now serves, according to the company’s April 17 filing with the secretary of the Senate.

His company is a subsidiary of the Singapore government’s Neptune Orient Lines Ltd., which is a large ocean carrier with vessels calling on key ports in the United States.

Mr. Agron was appointed Jan. 8, just one month before APL agreed to pay a record $26 million-plus fine to settle federal lawsuit allegations that it had defrauded the Pentagon over many years.

Mr. Agron was not involved in the court case. His company admitted no fault, and it says the settlement was a result of a contract dispute with the Defense Department.

Obama administration officials said they were unaware of Mr. Agron’s lobbying role until contacted by The Washington Times, and they are now reviewing the appointment made by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff just 12 days before President George W. Bush left office.

“We take this seriously and are reviewing the situation,” said Sean Smith, a spokesman for Obama administration Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

“Mr. Agron is not a political appointee of this administration. He was appointed to this part-time position by the previous secretary,” Mr. Smith said.

In March, the Obama administration ordered an overhaul of how U.S. agencies award contracts to the private sector and promised to crack down on fraud regarding Defense Department contracts. The administration also has imposed strict rules that require appointees to recuse themselves from issues on which they have lobbied.

Mr. Agron advises Homeland Security and the Coast Guard about policies on which he lobbies, specifically national maritime security strategy.

According to the April 17 report filed by his company, Mr. Agron also lobbies members of Congress, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture and the Commerce Department.

Mr. Chertoff, who is now with the law firm Covington & Burling in Washington, responded by e-mail through company spokeswoman Kathryn King to questions posed by The Times.

“The secretary relies on the nominating agency to vet the candidates recommended to the various advisory committees,” Ms. King said.

She added that Mr. Chertoff “was not aware” that Mr. Agron was a lobbyist for APL or that the Justice Department was investigating the company on suspicion of fraud when he nominated Mr. Agron.

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