Swant removed due to ethics violations regarding conflict of interest

Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech

In an email to the Tech community on July 19, President G.P. “Bud” Peterson announced that Steven G. Swant would no longer be serving as executive vice president for Administration and Finance (EVPAF). Peterson ended his email by thanking the community for their cooperation in helping to create an “ethical work and educational environment.” Beyond the news that Swant was no longer EVPAF, the email included no details as to why he was removed from the position.

More news came on July 23 when Peterson sent another email, this one longer but still not shedding light on the situation. The only details gleaned from this email were that Swant was most likely let go due to ethical reasons. Peterson mentioned ethics or ethical behavior twice in this email and discussed decision making that may not have benefitted the campus community.

In a third email, sent on July 26, Peterson finally released a detailed report of what Swant did that led to his firing.

The report comes directly from the Board of Regents (BOR) who reported the findings of an investigation into unethical behavior by Swant on July 18. This investigation was conducted following an anonymous report to the University System Office Ethics Line on May 21, 2018. The concern raised was of a conflict of interest between a Tech vendor and a Tech executive who served on the vendor’s board of directors. That Tech executive was Swant, and the company whose board he served on was RIB Software.

In May of 2014 the Georgia Tech Research Corporation (GTRC) and RIB signed a letter of intent focused around the use of RIB’s iTWO software for both research and the construction of the iTWO Towers in Technology Square. In Sept. 2014 a further agreement was signed for the virtual construction of a high-rise building in Tech Square. While originally dubbed the iTWO Towers, the building would later be named in the report as the CODA building, currently under construction in Tech Square. Furthermore, the agreement stated that the cost of the virtual construction would be $2.2 million. Tech originally paid $750,000 of that while RIB paid $250,000. Tech would further agree to pay a license renewal fee of $144,000 per year after the second year of the agreement.

This was the beginning of Tech’s official relationship with RIB and at this point in time Swant did not serve on RIB’s board of directors. In Nov. 2015, Swant travelled to Hong Kong to serve as the keynote speaker at the RIB iTWO World Conference. At this conference the CEO of RIB talked with Swant about becoming a member of the company’s board of directors. Swant was later offered the position in Jan. 2015, and accepted the position in Feb. 2015. Later that year in April, Swant obtained supervisory approval to serve on the board and began his service in June.

Following the beginning of his service on RIB’s board, Tech would enter into additional contracts with RIB totaling $424,838. In addition to serving as EVPAF, Swant was also a trustee of GTRC who was paying the money going into the contracts with RIB. As a trustee, Swant needed to fully disclose any conflicts of interest that could arise, however, the BOR found that Swant did not do so in a timely manner. After accepting the position on RIB’s board, Swant did not disclose any potential conflicts and did not recuse himself from dealings between RIB and Tech.

Although Swant initially received approval from President Peterson to serve on the RIB board, he failed to perform the necessary actions to prevent conflict on interest, failing to notify his subordinates of the potential conflict. Additionally, he failed to give Peterson the full picture of the relationship between Tech and RIB. When some employees discovered Swant’s position on the board they made reports to Tech’s Legal Affairs and Tech’s Human Resources. These concerns led to Peterson requesting that Swant resign from RIB’s board “effective immediately.”

Adding fuel to the fire, the investigation into Swant uncovered that he had pressured his subordinates into continued use of RIB’s software. In an email sent in May 2017, an employee detailed their report on vendors for 5D cost estimating, noting that unless outside funding was found for RIB, they should not move forward with the company but choose one of the other options available. The email was forwarded to Swant by the employee’s supervisor. Swant was unhappy with the suggestion and his reply included, “[The employee’s] definition of ‘best in class’ is flawed, his vision is short sighted, and his bias is even more pronounced than mine.” He ended the email stating, “I’ll decide what is in the project and what’s not…”

The employee who sent the email would later be summoned to Swant’s office and was told he was being insubordinate.

Swant furthered these conflicts by continuing to speak at RIB events, specifically in a way that seemed to benefit RIB more than Tech. He also encouraged employees to present at RIB events, even after concerns were raised about them.

Finally, the report details Swant’s improper use of Tech resources. Swant spent both his and his employees time helping RIB further their own interests at the behest of the CEO of RIB. Additionally, when serving in his role as a member of the board of RIB by going to board meetings Swant claimed consulting time on his work that should have been claimed as vacation time. In 2017 alone, Swant spent 30 days where the entire day or a substantial portion of it was spent furthering the interests of RIB. These days do not include preparation time by Swant or time spent by other Tech employees who were doing work that benefited RIB. This means actual time and resources devoted is even larger than the 30 days.

All of these violations resulted in the BOR giving four recommendations. The one relating to Swant was the first one, “GT should take appropriate corrective personnel actions consistent with the policies and practices of GT.” A day after the report was delivered, Peterson sent his initial email announcing that Swant was no longer serving as EVPAF.