News flash! Several instances of nepotism have been uncovered deep in the vast bureaucracy of the Department of Justice.
The DOJ’s Office of Inspector General has just issued a 105-page report about some very questionable hirings in DOJ’s Justice Management Division, which, according to its official job description, “serves as the management arm of the Department of Justice, advising the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of various issues related to the operation of the Department.”
Anyone reading the report may wonder if the JMD really serves as the mismanagement arm of the DOJ, since nepotism has been detected in the division at least twice before in the past decade, a fact noted with indignation by two Republicans, Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia.
Wolf was credited by the OIG for providing information that sparked the investigation. Grassley, a frequent critic of the DOJ, went so far as to declare on Thursday that the OIG’s findings constitute “another example of the Justice Department run wild.”
All right, Grassley may have been indulging in a bit of hyperbole. The latest “scandal” in the Justice Management Division will never rank with Watergate, Iran-Contra or Teapot Dome. But the OIG’s report does paint unflattering portraits of several officials who used their influence to land jobs for their own and one another’s relatives.
Keeping track of who’s who isn’t easy, but here are some of the leading actors: Edward A. Hamilton Sr., director of JMD’s Facilities and Administrative Services Staffs (FASS); Michael Clay, deputy director of FASS; Rodney E. Markham, the JMD Human Resources director; Jeanarta McEachron, assistant director of the Human Resources staff; Nancy Horkan, senior adviser to Mari Santangelo, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Human Resources and Administration; Pamela Cabell-Edelen, assistant human resources director, and the human resources operation chief, LaTonya Gamble.
Those named above hired their own or one another’s children, siblings, cousins or grandchildren, or looked the other way while such hiring was going on, the OIG concluded. Not only that, but in most instances the officials were, um, less than candid when questioned by OIG investigators, the report concluded.
All this was too much for Grassley. “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,” the senator said. “This is inexcusable, and I can assure you I will be looking into this matter.”
Wolf, too, was outraged. “Nepotism has no place in any federal agency, and it is especially disturbing coming from the Department of Justice – the agency charged with enforcing the law,” he said on Thursday. “As chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that funds DOJ, I expect for the employees involved in this nepotism ring to be punished under full extent of the law. I also expect the department to move quickly to enact the necessary reforms to prevent this from happening again.”
Lee Lofthus, the Assistant Attorney General who oversees the some 1000 employees of the JMD, said in a response to the report that he has implemented an IG recommendation requiring disclosure of job applicants’ family connections to current Justice Department employees.
“There was no lack of aggressive action after the last report” on nepotism,” Lofthus wrote in a response to the IG’s findings. “There also should have been no lack of clarity on the subject of inappropriate hiring. Nonetheless, it is evident training alone cannot compensate for what your report describes as bad behavior by the individuals involved.”
Let no one doubt that Grassley and Wolf are sincere. Let it be stipulated, too, that hiring on pure merit has its place in government, as does hiring on the basis of pure politics. But as for Wolf’s pronouncement that “nepotism has no place in any federal agency,” it is worth recalling that Robert F. Kennedy became Attorney General in 1961 on the basis of one qualification: his last name. Indeed, President John F. Kennedy joked that he named his brother because he wanted to give him some experience. Now, the Justice Department headquarters in Washington is named after Robert Kennedy.
And a quick reading of the OIG’s report suggests that the jobs involved were not highly lucrative political plums. They seemed like the kinds of jobs many young people get, through family or friends, when they are just starting their work lives.
Finally, a personal note. I got my first job in journalism in 1965 simply because my grandfather knew the publisher of my hometown newspaper in Pennsylvania. (But I could type.)
UPDATED with response of Lee Lofthus and Gina Talamona