DoJ report: Department politicized hirings for career staff

The Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility at the Department of Justice released the conclusions of its lengthy and detailed investigation into the hiring practices of the DoJ under Alberto Gonzales.  The probe concluded that three high-ranking officials improperly vetted candidates for political loyalty when considering them for career positions at Justice.  The report does not implicate Gonzales, but it reveals the incompetence of his tenure:

For nearly two years, a young political aide sought to cultivate a “farm system” for Republicans at theJustice Department, hiring scores of prosecutors and immigration judges who espoused conservative priorities and Christian lifestyle choices.

That aide, Monica M. Goodling, exercised what amounted to veto power over a wide range of critical jobs, asking candidates for their views on abortion and same-sex marriage and maneuvering around senior officials who outranked her, including the department’s second-in-command.

An extensive report by the department’s Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility concluded yesterday that Goodling and others had broken civil service laws, run afoul of department policy and engaged in “misconduct,” a finding that could expose them to further scrutiny and sanctions. The report depicted Goodling as a central figure in politicizing employment decisions at Justice during the Bush administration.

For anyone who may be inclined to think of this as a political vendetta, take a long read through the actual report.  It came from the IG and the OPR, two organs within the DoJ and not inclined towards partisan viewpoints.  The evidence they produced through interviews and testimony is damning, and their conclusions inescapable.

In any federal bureaucracy, jobs are divided up between civil-service or career positions and political appointments.  Vetting for political loyalty in the latter is expected — in fact, it’s why the positions exist.  For other positions, jobs in which policy does not get created or changed, federal law prohibits that kind of scrutiny.  Civil-service jobs exist to conduct the day-to-day business, with consistency and a lack of politicization.

That’s especially important at the Department of Justice.  In order to maintain confidence in the enforcement of law, the DoJ has to conduct itself with impartiality and nonpartisanship.  If prosecutions begin depending on politics, cronyism, or geography, it will corrode the rule of law and undermine the fabric of American life.

In this case, as the report states, it obstructed the operation of the DoJ in several critical areas:

Goodling often used political or ideological affiliations to select or reject career attorney candidates for temporary details to Department offices, including positions in EOUSA that had not been filled by political appointees. Goodling’s use of political considerations in connection with these details was particularly damaging to the Department because it resulted in high-quality candidates for important details being rejected in favor of less-qualified candidates. For example, an experienced career terrorism prosecutor was rejected by Goodling for a detail to EOUSA to work on counterterrorism issues because of his wife’s political affiliations.  Instead, EOUSA had to select a much more junior attorney who lacked any experience in counterterrorism issues and who EOUSA officials believed was not qualified for the position. ….

Not only did this process violate the law and Department policy, it also caused significant delays in appointing IJs. These delays increased the burden on the immigration courts, which already were experiencing an increased workload and a high vacancy rate. EOIR Deputy Director
Ohlson repeatedly requested candidate names to address the growing number of vacancies, with little success. As a result of the delay in providing candidates, the Department was unable to timely fill the large numbers of vacant IJ positions.

Instead of getting the best people in place for issues like terrorism and immigration, the three people named in this report instead focused on politics — and left these issues with incompetents or no one at all.  That‘s the danger of political cronyism.

Fortunately, the Mukasey DoJ has already adopted the recommendations of the IG and OPR in revamping hiring practices and oversight, and they believe his changes will keep this from happening again.  That demonstrates the desire Michael Mukasey has in correcting the shameful performance of his predecessor.  Even though the report doesn’t directly implicate Gonzales in these misdeeds, he appointed the people who perpetrated them and did nothing to provide oversight to prevent it from happening.