The Justice Department’s image was so badly battered as a result of the Bush administration’s politicization of the Department that restoring the public’s faith and confidence in the agency has become an even higher priority for the Department than even prosecuting even financial crimes and Wall Street criminals and protecting civil rights and civil liberties.
The Justice Department’s Inspector General said in his most recent, but little noticed semiannual report that restoring confidence has risen to the second highest priority for the Department. Only counterterrorism is currently a higher priority, the Inspector General said.
“The department needs to ensure that the diligence, hard work, and sound ethics of the overwhelming majority of department employees are not undermined by the few but highly visible incidents of potential misconduct,” the Inspector General, Glenn A. Fine, said in his report. “While the department’s leadership, both at the end of the past administration and during this administration, has taken important steps to confront this challenge, it must remain focused on this critical issue.”
The report asserted that the Obama administration and its new Attorney General, Eric Holder, has come up with numerous reforms to prevent the politicization of the Department’s hiring practices. The Bush administration’s firing of nine U.S. attorneys for political reasons was the most notable abuse of the Department by the Bush White House. But the Inspector General had earlier concluded that the Bush administration had also politicized the hiring of attorneys in the Department’s Civil Rights Division and other departments. And even broader effort was underway to politicize virtually all of the non-civil service jobs of the Department.
Among the priorities that now rank below “Restoring confidence in the Department of Justice,” are “Recovery Act Funding and Oversight” (no. 3), “Civil Rights and Civil Liberties” (no 4) and “Financial Crimes” (no. 5.)
Number 7 on the new list of the priorities is grant management. Although the issue did not receive as much attention as other Justice Department scandals as the Bush administration’s firing of nine U.S. attorneys or the alleged setting aside of the law by some Bush appointees in the Justice Department to rationalize the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program– one of the biggest scandals was the politicization of more than a half billion dollar in federal grants awarded by the Department each year.
An earlier investigation by the Justice Department’s Inspector General had concluded that a senior Department official during the Bush administration, J. Robert Flores, had awarded tens of millions of dollars of grants to conservative political ideologues and political allies of the Bush White House– over more qualified applicants. Flores’ top aide, Michelle Dekonty, also was fired after she took the Fifth Amendment rather than answer questions from government investigators. Attorney General Eric Holder has promised that no such abuses will happen in the future. That ending the abuse and favoritism in the awarding of contracts is a new priority for the Department reflects that priority, Justice Department officials say.
In Fine’s earlier report on Justice Department grants, the Inspector General reported that his investigators were told by the Department’s top grants official during the Bush administration that “officials from the Office of the Attorney General, White House, and Congress lobbied her to award non-competitive awards to certain organizations.”
The 2009 priority list for the Justice Department differs from its 2008 priority list that “Violent Crime” and “Cyber Crime” have fallen off the list entirely—only underscoring the necessity that the Department repairs its public image after exposure of Bush era abuses and end cronyism and favoritism in the awarding of federal grant money.