“Senior officials appear to act with impunity,” Sen. Chuck Grassley said of the U.S. Marshals Service.

“Senior officials appear to act with impunity,” Sen. Chuck Grassley said of the U.S. Marshals Service. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

GOP Senator Blasts Marshals Service for ‘Frat’ Culture, Details Mismanagement

Some 100 whistleblowers told Judiciary panel of waste, wrongful hiring, retaliation.

In one of his last acts before rotating out from chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Thursday went public with a 430-page compendium of wrongdoing by managers at the U.S. Marshals Service, acts ranging from favoritism in hiring to spending more than $1 million on contracts with a speechwriter.

Based on disclosures over the past three years by some 100 whistleblowers, the 21-page memo with dozens of appendices provides details on previously disclosed incidences of then-Directors’ Stacia Hylton and deputies’ attempts to hire friends and relatives, retaliation against whistleblowers who filed complaints with the Equal Opportunity Office, tolerance of out-of-date body armor, and efforts to chill communications between Congress and the Federal Managers Association.

“Throughout the investigation, the committee identified a culture of mismanagement, reckless spending, favoritism, and a general lack of accountability at the USMS,” Grassley wrote. “In what has been described by whistleblowers as a ‘frat’ style of management, senior officials appear to act with impunity while lower level employees are held to a stringent standard.”

He said such actions “have a demoralizing effect on the brave men and women of the Marshals Service, and thus tend to undermine the public’s trust in America’s oldest law enforcement agency.”

Violations of law or federal rules, the report said, include conclusions that “the USMS has repeatedly spent taxpayer dollars on lavish and unnecessary items, such as a $22,000 conference table and a speechwriter who received contracts totaling over a million dollars.”

Managers of the Marshals’ Assets Forfeiture Fund “opened a costly but rarely used training facility in Texas, and by drawing from it to pay the salaries of employees not fully dedicated to asset forfeiture as well as expenses apparently incurred improperly by federal officers involved in Joint Law Enforcement Operations,” the summary noted.

Perhaps most disturbingly, managers may have put employees lives at risk with delays in updating agents’ body armor with a high failure rate, the report argued. “It is troubling that the agency was ready to expend the funds to promote 60 people with no competition, while ignoring pleas to replace body armor with a 13 percent failure rate currently worn by thousands of operational employees across the agency whose daily job it is to apprehend violent fugitives,” the report said.

“The committee noted a very troubling overall lack of accountability at the USMS,” said the report, which also includes correspondence on many of the issues with the Justice Department’s inspector general. “Just last year, a chief deputy U.S. marshal “was allowed to retire with full benefits and without receiving any punishment despite two DOJ OIG investigations which concluded that he misused his government vehicle and cell phone, engaged in sexual harassment, threatened and committed acts of retaliation against employees participating in a DOJ OIG investigation, and lacked candor during interviews.”

The clash over the Federal Managers Association emerged in 2017 after the Marshals Service sent the group a letter “threatening to terminate the agency’s long-standing relationship over what they perceived as attempts to “undermine significant agency initiatives,” the report, dated Dec. 21, said. The letter complained about meetings and email exchanges between the employees organization and congressional staff seen as “contrary to the purpose of any positive consultative relationship.” Grassley complained to the Justice Department warning Marshals Service actions were “an attempt to chill communications with Congress. As a major stakeholder in hiring practices, the FMA has the right to express their views on pending legislation,” Grassley wrote.

Writing before turning over the Judiciary panel’s gavel to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Grassley recommended improved training, faster adjudication of disputes and better communication with Congress.

The Marshals Service’s next director “on his first day of office, [should] issue a memorandum which affirms his commitment to whistleblowers.” And he or she should “end all practices requiring whistleblowers involved in retaliation claims to resign or retire as a condition of settlement.” And the director should immediately end the practice of allowing employees who have serious and substantiated misconduct findings against them to use paid or unpaid leave in order to retire and avoid termination.”

Most importantly, the new director “should commit to the safety and well-being of all operational personnel by ensuring that all cyclical safety equipment, such as body armor, is up to date.”

The Marshals Service, which is without a director and subject to the partial government shutdown, did not respond to a request for comment. President Trump in October nominated Louisiana attorney Donald Washington for the post.

Several agency executives wrote letters to Grassley last year, included in the report, in which they largely acknowledge the problems, but gave explanations. On the body armor question, for example, the agency argued that the five-year expiration mark for equipment is a benchmark not a rule, depending on how well the equipment has been cared for.