Political Appointees Lacked Oversight; Inspector Says Civil Law Violated
Byline: Ben Conery, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Hiring at the Justice Department under then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales became overtly political, and ultimately illegal, because political appointees with little experience and almost no oversight were left to make critical decisions, the department's internal watchdog said Wednesday.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said the problems were serious and systemic and violated civil law, but added that his office had not yet found any evidence of criminal wrongdoing or a conspiracy involving senior White House officials and Mr. Gonzales.
Several committee members still had harsh words for the Bush administration.
It really shows when it comes to politics, this is an administration that has no gag reflex, said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat.
Earlier this week, Mr. Fine's office released a report indicating that some of Mr. Gonzales' top aides sought to hire only Republicans or conservatives for certain prosecutor jobs and immigration judgeships.
Political beliefs and affiliations can be considered in the appointment of so-called political jobs at the Justice Department. Considering political leanings for filling jobs such as prosecutors, immigration judges and other so-called career staff is a violation of department policy and federal civil service laws.
Last month, the inspector general released a report highlighting similar problems with hiring for the prestigious Summer Law Intern Program and the department's Honors Program, the latter of which is the only way for a recent law school graduate to be hired by the Justice Department. Mr. Fine called the program the backbone of the Department of Justice.
In an e-mail to staff Wednesday, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said he was disturbed and disappointed by the reports. He said the department already has taken steps, such as revising the hiring process for career employees, interns and Honors Program candidates, as well as mandated training for political appointees regarding prohibited personnel practices.
Although the publication of these reports and the headlines they generate are painful for all who work here, they are an important part of determining and acknowledging what went wrong and why it went wrong, and crucial to ensuring that we do not again have to face such problems, Mr. Mukasey wrote. Unfortunately, overlooked in many of the headlines and editorials about these reports is the valuable and skillful work you are doing on behalf of the American people. …