Posts Tagged ‘GAO’
Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

A recent Government Accountability Office report found that 32 politically appointed Justice Department employees had transitioned to career DOJ positions during the last years of the Bush administration, a process known as “burrowing in.” In two instances involving DOJ appointees, proper protocol was not followed in the transition process, the GAO found.

The GAO report, released Tuesday, looked at cases across the federal government from May 1, 2022 through May 30, 2009. The report found that 139 political appointees transitioned to career jobs during that time period, with the largest number of cases occurring at the DOJ.

(iStock)

Burrowing in, sometimes also called “digging in,” is not unique to the George W. Bush administration. The practice has gone on for years and is tolerated by both political parties. It can represent an effort by political appointees to move to a safer career track in order to keep a government job leading up to or after a new president is elected.

In a 2000 report on the same topic, the GAO found that 57 political appointees in the Clinton administration converted to career positions from October 1998 to June 2000, with 13 — the most of any agency — transitioning at the Justice Department.

Tuesday’s report did not condemn the practice, noting that political appointees “can bring valuable skills and experience to the federal workforce, and the merit-based conversion of political appointees to career positions can be a useful means to achieving a highly qualified workforce.”

Most of the DOJ cases examined in the report occurred while Bush was in office, including some just a few days before President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Some of the employees may have switched at the beginning of Obama’s term and may have been approved by Obama’s Justice Department appointees.

According to the report, in January 2007 an unnamed special assistant to the Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division was allegedly improperly converted into an Assistant U.S. Attorney position in the Southern District of Florida.

The GAO report said that most of the officials conducting interviews for the position recommended against the hire, and one official noted that they had interviewed at least two superior candidates. The officials “noted the eventual selectee’s lack of experience, that he did not appear to stay in any job for an extended period of time, and observed that his writing sample did not contain much original writing, but was boilerplate,” according to the report.

Even though the former special assistant was viewed as a weak candidate, he was hired as a career Assistant U.S. Attorney position after serving on a six-month detail. “This action appears to violate the prohibition against granting unauthorized advantages to individuals in the hiring process,” the report concluded.

In another instance, the U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Georgia authorized a vacancy announcement for a career position for which she later applied and was selected to fill. “Although there is no evidence to suggest that the eventual selectee was involved in the actual selection process, this appearance of a violation of ethical standards calls this conversion action into question,” the report said, adding that it was a potential violation of ethical standards.

The Justice Department told the GAO that the agency’s ethics officer “is gathering information on this conversion and, based on the information she receives, her office will take the appropriate next steps.”

While the individual is not named in the report, the GAO noted that the individual was appointed U.S. Marshal in August 2002 — a description that fits Theresa Rodgers who was appointed U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Georgia at that time.

U.S. Marshals spokesman Jeff Carter confirmed that Rodgers is still with the U.S. Marshals service but declined to comment on the report.

“It would be inappropriate for the U.S. Marshals Service to comment on the GAO report since, as is indicated in the report, the agency is conducting an ethical standards inquiry for potential departmental review,” Carter said in a statement.

In the majority of cases examined, DOJ used proper protocol, according to the report. Some of those cases include:

  • The Director of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service became the Director of the Office of Self-Governance in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in January 2007.
  • In another instance, the Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics became the Deputy Director for Planning in the Planning Office of the Director’s office of the Bureau of Justice Assistance in 2006 and received a $10,000 boost in salary.
  • A Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Assistant Attorney General became the Deputy Associate Solicitor for Mineral Resources in the Office of the Solicitor in July 2007 and received a $9,000 salary boost.
  • The U.S. Marshall for the District of Nebraska took the position of Criminal Investigator in the Judicial Security Division of the Office of Protective Operations of the United States Marshals Service, along with a $10,000 cut in salary in July 2008.
  • The Supervisory Criminal Investigator in Superior Court for the United States Marshals Service became a Criminal Investigator in the Human Resources Division of the Training Academy of the United States Marshals Service in 2008.
  • The U.S. Attorney at Charlotte Headquarters of the Department of Justice became an Attorney Adviser in Western Charlotte Headquarters in March 2009, keeping the same salary.
  • The Chief Of Staff in the Office of the General Counsel, became an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne, Wyo., just before the end of the Bush administration.
  • A Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Chief of Staff in the Office of Legal Policy became an Attorney Adviser in the Office of Legal Policy in December 2007.
  • A Deputy Administrator in the Office of Justice Programs became an Assistant U.S. Attorney for The District of Columbia in the Executive Office for United States Attorneys in November 2006.
  • An Attorney Adviser in the Drug Enforcement Task Force became an Attorney-Adviser in the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys General Counsel Office in March 2009, keeping the same salary.

Additional reporting by David Johnston.

The full report is embedded below.

GAO Report on Political to Career Conversions

Thursday, December 17th, 2009
Rep. Lamar Smith (file photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Rep. Lamar Smith (file photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

The Government Accountability Office will investigate the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now’s use of federal funds, two Republican House members announced in a news release today.

Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said they were informed of the investigation in a Dec. 7 letter from GAO.

In the letter, the GAO’s Ralph Dawn said the watchdog office has accepted the request to investigate the use of federal funds.

In late November, the Justice Department released a memo concluding the government should pay ACORN for contracts that were in place before President Barack Obama signed legislation banning the community organizing group from receiving federal funds.

Republicans have criticized ACORN and held a forum to discuss allegations of voter fraud and embezzlement against the organization.

Here is the text of the news release from Smith and Issa, with the GAO letter embedded below it:

“House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and House Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) today received notice that the GAO will investigate ACORN’s use of federal funds.

In a letter dated December 7, 2009, the GAO agreed to work with executive branch Inspectors General to provide Congress with a report regarding ACORN’s receipt and use of taxpayer dollars.  Ranking Members Smith and Issa issued the following statements applauding the GAO’s decision:

Ranking Member Smith: “I am pleased that the GAO has agreed to review ACORN’s receipt and use of federal funds.  Congress has a responsibility to ensure that no taxpayer dollars are allocated to an organization supporting or engaged in criminal conduct.  The GAO review is a good start, but given ACORN’s extensive record of criminal conduct, the FBI must also step in. Only an independent criminal investigation conducted by the FBI can get to the bottom of the nationwide allegations against ACORN.”

Ranking Member Issa: “ACORN’s criminal acts over many years have robbed taxpayers and charitable donors of the honest public services ACORN was paid to provide.  This GAO study should be another step toward understanding the scope of funds from across the Federal government that were sent to ACORN yet cannot be verified that they were used as intended.”

ACORN is currently under investigation in more than a dozen states.  Many members of the organization and its affiliates have been convicted of criminal conduct, including voter registration fraud.

Following the release of undercover videos showing ACORN employees encouraging criminal conduct, Congress voted overwhelmingly to prohibit the provision of federal funds to ACORN.  Last week, a federal court struck down the provision as a bill of attainder.  Ranking Members Smith and Issa have called on DOJ to appeal the decision.

The GAO, often called the “congressional watchdog,” is a nonpartisan agency that investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars.

GAO_ACORN

Monday, December 7th, 2009
Eileen Regen Larence, Grace Chung Becker and Joseph Rich testified on the GAO report on the Civil Rights Division on Thursday (Photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Eileen Regen Larence, Grace Chung Becker and Joseph Rich testified on the GAO report on the Civil Rights Division on Thursday (Photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

A newly released government report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division from 2001 to 2007 confirms the mass exodus of career attorneys from the division during the Bush administration and shows several areas where enforcement of civil rights law declined.

And, according to Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, between 2003 and 2007 more than 70 percent of the division’s attorneys left, “leading to a significant depletion of capabilities and institutional knowledge.” Perez made the remarks in prepared testimony before a House Judiciary subcommittee on Thursday.

The GAO report was also released at the hearing, where Eileen Regen Larence, director of GAO’s homeland security and justice division, answered questions from the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

While the GAO report does not mention the division’s overall attrition rate, which was compiled for an Obama DOJ transition team report that hasn’t been released publicly, it did demonstrate that a large number of employees in different sections left each year.

  • The Employment Section l0st 23 percent of its staff in 2003, 35 percent in 2004 and 22 percent in 2005.
  • In the Voting Section, 31 percent of the staff left in 2005, and 21 percent departed in 2007.
  • For the Special Litigation section, the attrition rate was 31 percent in 2005, 24 percent in 2006 and 18 percent in 2007.

Perez also said the GAO report provides backing for his analysis that there has been a decline in enforcement in several areas during the Bush administration compared with the previous Clinton administration. Those areas include housing discrimination, job discrimination and disability rights.

The report identifies cases where the recommendations of career DOJ attorneys were overruled by George W. Bush political appointees.  The investigators could not pin down the exact number of instances, however, because the division doesn’t maintain electronic records explaining why cases were closed.

Joseph Rich, who worked for the division for 37 years and served as Voting Section chief from 1999 until he left the Justice Department in 2005, said the report confirms his own research and information. Rich testified before the committee on Thursday and cited a 2007 report he helped edit for the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress entitled “The Erosion of Rights,”

By interviewing Voting Section attorneys about 51 of the 345 matters closed in a six-year time frame, the GAO was able to identify three matters in which the Bush-run division had not approved the recommendation of career Voting Section lawyers.

Regarding one of the cases mentioned by the GAO, Rich testified that division political leadership denied a Voting Section recommendation to investigate a case on behalf of Wind River Reservation in Fremont County, Wyo.

It involved a possible violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act based on the county’s use of an at-large election system, which makes it more difficult for minority candidates to win even if they constitute a majority in parts of the jurisdiction. Officials told the Voting Section not to investigate it because it was their belief that there were a large number of Republicans in  the area, according to Rich. According to Rich, after the Justice Department declined to act, the American Civil Liberties Union later filed a lawsuit against the Fremont County jurisdiction. DOJ eventually signed on to the complaint and a court found in favor of the ACLU.

However, in response to questions from the New York Times about the GAO report, Rich said that he believes that Michael Mukasey — who was Attorney General at the end of President Bush’s tenure -  and his team improved the enforcement and hiring practices in the division.

Perez also said that Mukasey began the process of depoliticizing the hiring process in the Civil Rights Division, a process he pledged to complete as the division finalizes new rules to “ensure that the very best candidates for the job are selected through a process that is conducted fairly, transparently, and without any consideration of the candidates’ political views.”

The former acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Grace Chung Becker, who served under Mukasey from the spring of 2008 until the end of the Bush administration, also testified Thursday, in defense of the Bush administration. Becker, who failed to win Senate confirmation in the spring of 2008 amid doubts from Democrats about her commitment to enforcing anti-discrimination laws protecting minorities, said the division under her leadership helped non-English speakers obtain ballots in their own language and stepped up prosecution of human trafficking cases.

Case Management Problems

In a separate but related issue, another GAO report also publicly released at Thursday’s hearing  said that compiling data on the division’s activities under the Bush administration proved difficult because of the current case management system.

Despite what GAO characterized as the obvious need to track data on the racial, gender, national origin and sexual orientation groups covered by the statutes that the Civil Rights Division enforces, the current case management system, which was begun in 2000 under the Clinton administration, does not track these “protected class” categories, according to the GAO report.

DOJ officials said the division has not required sections to enter this data into the system since it was implemented. The computer software includes fields for collecting data on protected classes, but in the vast majority of cases the field has been left blank.

Officials in the Employment Litigation Section, Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, Voting Section and Special Litigation Section reported they resorted to using WordPerfect (described by the GAO report as an “ancillary data system”) because it was much easier to search and compile data.

The report made several recommendations for the Civil Rights Division:

  • Conduct annual assessments of the system.
  • Require sections of the division to record data on protected class to strengthen its ability to account for its enforcement efforts.
  • Determine how sections should be required to record data explaining the reasons for closing matters in the system.

Perez said he concurs with the three recommendations regarding case management, and that the department is working to implement those new procedures.

The DOJ believes that “the distribution of information across different case management systems makes it difficult and costly to generate department-level reports that support decision making,” according to the GAO report.

A planned implementation of a new Litigation Case Management System (LCMS) “will enable greater and more effective collaboration and information management,” according to the report. But that project began in March 2006 is now nearly two years behind schedule and over budget.

The DOJ is now uncertain whether the system ever will be implemented in six of the litigating components including the Civil Rights Division. That could mean the Division will need to rely on the old and flawed Interactive Case Management System (ICM), which has been in place since 2000.

While Justice Department guidance encourages each office within DOJ to conduct assessments of electronic data systems, the division has not conducted an assessment since 2006. It also lacks documentation of prior assessments. The report concludes the division lacks information on the performance of ICM and whether it is meeting users’ needs.