Nepotism prevalent at Justice Department, says IG report

The Justice Department’s inspector general found at least seven instances of federal employees engaging in illegal attempts to hire family members at the agency, according to a report issued Thursday.

The report is the third investigation in less than a decade that has found numerous examples of illegal hiring practices, amounting to nepotism, within the DOJ.

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The latest series of nepotistic attempts came after Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) alerted the IG to complaints he received in 2010 from a former DOJ employee-turned-whistleblower.

Wolf said the report was “alarming” and called on the DOJ employees, whose attempts at hiring relatives are exposed in the IG’s report, to be punished by the department.

“The report issued by the Department of Justice Inspector General today is alarming, especially given that the department has twice been warned about these illegal practices before,” said Wolf, the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the DOJ’s budget, in a statement.

“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.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticized the DOJ in the wake of the IG’s report, saying that the agency is running “wild.”

At an executive committee meeting on Thursday, Grassley called on Attorney General Eric Holder to take legal action against the employees cited in the report. Grassley has butted heads with Holder for most of the attorney general's time in office, saying that the DOJ constantly “stonewalls” his requests for information and action.

“This is another example of the Justice Department run wild,” said 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.

“At the very least, the Attorney General needs to hold these employees accountable — with more than just disciplinary action,” he said. “Laws were broken and false statements were made. The Department can’t simply sweep this under the rug. Employees need to be punished.”

The IG’s report found seven examples of employees within the DOJ’s Justice Management Division (JMD) attempting to hire the family members of their fellow employees.

According to the IG’s report, in two separate instances a pair of employees, who worked in different sections of the DOJ, engaged in schemes to hire the other’s child. In another example, a DOJ employee tried to secure employment for his cousin and nephew.

The IG released two prior reports on nepotistic hiring practices in 2004 and again in 2008, in which they found that employees manipulated the DOJ’s hiring process to favor certain candidates.

In 2008, the IG recommended that the department conduct ethics training and establish a “zero-tolerance” policy for future attempts at illegal hiring.  

In a memorandum issued earlier this week, Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee Lofthus wrote the IG to say that he would strengthen and clarify training for employees, with particular attention on the agency’s nepotism rules.

Lofthus also said that by Friday his office would be implementing a three-prong set of disclosure forms that would require DOJ employees to disclose any family member who they are aware of applying for a job within the agency. It would also require any DOJ applicant to reveal a family member who works for the department.

Lofthus said, according to the IG report, the actions of illegal hiring were a result of intentionally “bad behavior” and not ignorance of the rules or a lack of training on the DOJ’s part.

“The OIG report concludes by saying most of the misconduct identified in the report did not stem from ignorance of the rules, but rather was the result of bad behavior by individuals insufficiently impressed with the principles of fair and open competition.”

— This story was last updated at 4:19 p.m.