Justice HR officials implicated in nepotism ring

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., requested the investigation after hearing from a former Justice employee. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., requested the investigation after hearing from a former Justice employee. AP file photo

Several senior officials in the Justice Department’s management and operations arm violated federal laws by participating in hiring family members, according to a watchdog report released Thursday.

The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General investigated allegations of nepotism in the justice management division and implicated eight senior-level employees with participating in the practice by hiring their own family members or helping to hire colleagues’ family members.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., requested the OIG report after a former Justice employee informed him of the incidences of nepotism. The report’s findings mark the third time the inspector general has implicated JMD for improper hiring practices. Two directors were criticized in 2004 and 2008 for “manipulating the competitive hiring process to favor particular candidates,” the IG wrote.

The report found the employees violated several laws and statutes to help their relatives and those of their colleagues earn positions in the division. It also found that hiring friends and relatives of employees for paid summer internships and clerkships was not an uncommon practice. Relatives of JMD employees occupied six of its 11 paid human resources internships during the second quarter of 2010, which later gave those relatives a leg up in earning career appointments.

While “some of the training materials and other guidance we reviewed addressed important topics (such as nepotism) in a superficial and incomplete manner, the pattern of fundamental misconduct described in this report did not stem from ignorance of the rules,” the OIG wrote. “Rather, most of the misconduct described in this report -- the nepotism, the prohibited personnel practices, the ethical lapses, the false and misleading statements -- was the result of bad behavior by individuals insufficiently impressed with the principles of fair and open competition.”

“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,” Wolf said in a statement. Wolf, who also serves as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds Justice, called for the employees involved “to be punished under full extent of the law.”

In the department’s response to the IG’s report, Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee J. Lofthus pledged to put in place “appropriate and immediate corrective actions to ensure the problems are not repeated,” including pursuing “disciplinary and other actions as appropriate based on the circumstances of each of the cases raised in this report.”

Lofthus also concurred with the IG’s recommendations to avoid nepotism incidences in the future, including revising training materials and guidance on hiring practices, requiring disclosure of applications by relatives, and reviewing whether nepotism or improper preference occurred in the hiring of additional relatives who were not part of OIG’s investigation.

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