No surprise here: the Justice Department is parting ways with its in-house compliance counsel, Hui Chen, who had raised eyebrows lately with thinly veiled attacks against Donald Trump on social media.
The department began advertising Wednesday for a new compliance counsel, and confirmed to the National Law Journal that, yes, Chen is departing after 20 months on the job. Exactly when she will leave isn’t clear, and Chen declined to comment to the NLJ. Her original contract runs until September 2017, and the new compliance counsel will presumably start with the government’s new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
Chen began tweeting on May 10, with cryptic attacks against misconduct such as:
Do compliance issues (e.g. conflict of interest) cease to be compliance issues when the people involved happen to be elected?
— Hui Chen (@HuiChenEthics) May 25, 2017
Ask not how the administration can change our work; ask how our work can change the world, one thoughtful and courageous step at a time.
— Hui Chen (@HuiChenEthics) May 5, 2017
What do you do if you are troubled by your organization’s “tone from the top”, and feel you no longer believe in its mission? #Ethics
— Hui Chen (@HuiChenEthics) May 10, 2017
As a CCO, I always made sure to have a paper trail documenting improper influences in my work. #TrumpRussiaCoverUp
— Hui Chen (@HuiChenEthics) May 17, 2017
Latest artwork in DC – night time only! (Photo by Liz Gorman, as seen in the Washingtonian). pic.twitter.com/MlxGdJG8h2
— Hui Chen (@HuiChenEthics) May 16, 2017
None of Chen’s tweets attacked Trump specifically. Instead, they called out unprincipled leadership, compromised investigations, and diminished ethical values—which Trump and his coterie of incompetents happen to be churning out in spades.
On a certain House of Cards meets Seinfeld level, Chen’s tweeting was brilliant. They positioned her as a champion of strong ethical conduct. They raised her profile in the ethics and compliance community, for her inevitable (and now accelerated) return to the more lucrative private sector.
Plus, I’m sure, the tweets annoyed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and hopefully even Trump himself—but what were they going to do, fire yet another government employee standing up for ethics? Chen had the opportunity to stand her ground for good ethics, which is in short supply in the Trump Administration, so she did. Good for her.
This also means, of course, that the Justice Department now has an opening. Compliance officers looking to move into government service, this may be your big chance!
The pay grade is GS-15, which means annual salary of $131,767 to $161,900, plus benefits. (The job seems to be a full-time gig this time around; Chen was an independent contractor.) Candidates should have a J.D. degree and at least four years’ experience, one of which should be equivalent to GS-14 grade—that is, at least one year as a senior-level compliance executive at a large corporation. Application deadline is June 27. You can read the full details on the Justice Department website.
Most interesting to me is the simple fact that the Justice Department is keeping the compliance counsel job at all. The Trump Administration budget proposes sharp cuts to the Justice Department. I thought this would be one of the positions that go over the side. Kudos to Trevor McFadden, the deputy assistant attorney general overseeing the Fraud Section, for keeping it in there.
Meanwhile, let’s all give a round of thanks to Chen. She was the first-ever compliance counsel at the Justice Department, and helped prosecutors understand how compliance really gets done—or not—in the corporate world. While nobody has confirmed this, Chen is also a prime suspect in the guidance published earlier this year about how the Justice Department evaluates the effectiveness of compliance programs. That guidance is specific, practical, and extensive; just the sort of stuff you’d expect a former corporate compliance counsel to know about.
We’ll all have to see what Chen does next. She’s held high-level compliance and anti-bribery positions at Standard Chartered Bank, Pfizer, and Microsoft; she pulled stints as a federal prosecutor for the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn. Somehow I think Chen’s career will be just fine.
Chen is, of course, welcome to contribute to Radical Compliance at any time. Let’s hope she keeps up the tweets, too.