Ousted federal election official gave himself a pay raise and misused funds for Harvard classes, watchdog says

Facing yet another contentious presidential election year, a federal bipartisan commission tasked with strengthening election security around the country quietly confirmed in January that its third executive director had departed the agency in as many years.

Now, a recently released government watchdog’s investigation summary shows why.

Steven M. Frid, the former executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, was fired late last year after he gave himself a big pay raise and spent taxpayer money on Harvard University leadership classes without approval, an inspector general report found.

“Frid improperly sought and acquired an increase in his own pay of $31,450 annually without the awareness of EAC Commissioners, who were his supervisors,” according to an inspector general’s investigation summary, dated April 5 and made public Thursday.

Frid, who until the time of his pay boost was receiving an annual salary of $172,100, was able to give himself the raise “by applying for and receiving `critical pay’ authority from the Office of Personnel Management” unbeknownst to his bosses, the summary states.

The investigation also found that Frid enrolled in three Harvard leadership training courses last summer, at a cost of $28,300 to the agency, without first getting required approval from commissioners. Frid also failed to report 96 hours of vacation and other days off last year, the summary states.

Frid, 41, did not immediately return a message from NBC News on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the EAC said late Tuesday afternoon she would forward a request for comment to commission officials, but the agency did not provide a statement about the investigation by close of business.

Established in 2002 by the Help America Vote Act, prompted by the “hanging chad” controversy during the 2000 presidential election, the EAC provides funds and other assistance to state election offices to improve the administration and security of federal elections.

The EAC is supervised by four commissioners nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, with former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump each successfully nominating two commissioners who are still serving.

The four commissioners supervise the agency’s executive director, who oversees a staff of 75 other full-time employees and an annual budget that’s $27.7 million this year. The agency has experienced heavy turnover among its top staff members in recent years.

In initial news reports about Frid’s departure, the EAC didn’t explain why he had left the agency.

According to the summary made public last week, the commissioners unanimously voted to fire Frid on Dec. 27 after the EAC’s inspector general informed them of the status of the investigation into allegations surrounding him. The findings, which did not turn up any evidence that Frid provided false statements when applying for approval to boost his own pay, were referred to the Justice Department, “which declined to pursue the matter,” the summary states.

Frid, who had served less than a year in the top post, had previously worked for several federal agencies, including the Department of Education and Secret Service.

According to his LinkedIn profile — which cites among Frid’s educational achievements an executive leadership certificate earned last year from Harvard