Employee groups praise Gonzales -- for leaving

Federal employee groups and government officials praised Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' decision to resign Monday, saying it is the first step to restoring credibility to a department that has been plagued with low employee morale and political pressure under his leadership.

"Gonzales' resignation was inevitable," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. "He lacked proper judgment, and his outright refusal to be honest and upstanding was a disservice to the DoJ."

Gonzales announced Monday morning that he would leave his post Sept. 17, amid congressional criticism over the firings of nine U.S. attorneys and the use of warrantless wiretaps in terrorism investigations. After Gonzales' announcement, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the attorney general had "completely lost faith with the 90,000 employees of the Justice Department."

Gonzales' relations with his employees were strained by the firings of the attorneys and his performance during congressional hearings investigating the dismissals. An anonymous group of Justice employees sent a letter to Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the chairs of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, in April, asking them to investigate other hiring programs they believed were tainted by political bias.

Fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias told Government Executive on Monday that Gonzales' resignation marks a victory for Justice, where he said employee morale hit an all-time low under Gonzales' leadership. "This resignation will do nothing but increase the morale of career people, [who] should have faith and confidence," Iglesias said. "The attorney general should be a person of integrity and credibility, and Mr. Gonzales was not."

The National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys said Gonzales' resignation created an opportunity for Congress to work with employees to address morale issues. "The controversy surrounding [Gonzales'] stewardship has had unfortunate and unwarranted repercussions upon the Department of Justice," the association said in a statement. "The attorney general's resignation thus creates an opportunity for NAAUSA to work with the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on other important issues which impact AUSAs and their service to the people."

Gonzales made an effort to reach out to his employees in a July address on the Justice Department's internal television channel, seeking to assure them that he was committed to fixing the agency's problems and to incorporating their input.

"I will also be working on my relationship with all of you. You should expect to continue to see me in the hallways, in the conference rooms of U.S. attorneys' offices, in the AAG's office suites, and in the buildings of our law enforcement agencies," Gonzales said. "I want this department to know me better as a person, and I will engage you all in advising me on what's best for the delivery of justice."

But though Gonzales reversed his statement of commitment with his decision to resign, he praised his employees in his letter of resignation, obtained by the Web site TPMMuckraker.

"I am proud to have served with the career investigators, administrative and support staff, litigators and prosecutors in the Department of Justice," Gonzales wrote. "It is because of their hard work and professionalism that our country is safer from acts of terrorism, our neighborhoods suffer less from violent crime, and our children are better protected from predators."

Bryan Lowry, president of an AFGE local at Justice's Bureau of Prisons, said Monday that he hopes whoever is named to replace Gonzales will address staffing shortages resulting from a plan Gonzales implemented two years ago. The plan called for 2,300 positions at the agency to be eliminated, Lowry said.

"The staffing shortage greatly decreased our ability to contain the inmate population," Lowry said.

Democratic senators also chimed in with criticism of Gonzales' management of Justice Department employees.

"Under this attorney general and this president, the DoJ suffered a severe crisis of leadership that allowed our justice system to be corrupted by political influence," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a statement. "It was the dedicated professionals of the law enforcement system that suffered the most."

Gonzales' departure is "good news for the Department of Justice, but a great deal of work remains to be done to restore Americans' confidence in this great department, to restore its traditions and spirit, and to restore its ability to fairly and dispassionately enforce the law," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a former U.S. attorney. "Fortunately, there are many people of both parties who know and love this department who I'm sure would be glad to help."

The National Treasury Employees Union characterized the resignation as symptomatic of the politicization of federal agencies and a lack of transparency and accountability. "It is our hope that the next attorney general will respect the rights of whistleblowers and treat career federal employees with the dignity and respect they deserve," said NTEU President Colleen Kelley.

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