A group of employees in the U.S. Justice Department's management and operations office are under fire for their roles in improper hiring practices that included seeking employment for relatives, according to an internal report published today.
The DOJ Inspector General Office report found eight current or former employees in the department's Justice Management Division violated statutes and regulations that cover the hiring of relatives and conflicts of interest and employee ethics.
The investigation marked the third probe of hiring practices at the management division office in the past eight years. Two earlier reports criticized officials in the office for the alleged manipulation of the competitive hiring process to favor certain candidates.
"The report clearly established that inappropriate hiring occurred regarding relatives of JMD employees," Lee Lofthus, assistant attorney general for administration, said in a letter to Michael Horowitz, the DOJ inspector general. "While it was a small number of JMD staff and individuals implicated in the investigation, the report was particularly troubling as it identified hiring improprieties for the third time in eight years."
Lofthus, who oversees the management division, said in the letter that the office took action after the last report to improve training. "There was no lack of aggressive action after the last report," he said in the letter. "There also should have been no lack of clarity on the subject of inappropriate hiring."
The investigation began after a former DOJ employee provided information to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who forwarded the disclosure to the inspector general's office in September 2010.
The officials targeted in the investigation included the director and deputy director of the Facilities and Administrative Services Staff, the director and two assistant directors of human resources at JMD and a senior adviser to a deputy assistant attorney general.
The report's recommendations include disciplinary action against certain employees and the revision of training materials and guidance to eliminate ambiguity about the scope of the federal nepotism statute.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said this morning in a statement that the inspector general's report "is another example of the Justice Department run wild." Grassley said accountability will require more than disciplinary action.
"It is troubling to me how employees within the Department colluded and schemed to hire one another’s relatives in order to avoid rules against nepotism," Grassley said. "This is inexcusable and I can assure you I will be looking into this matter."