DOJ favored politically conservative candidates in hiring: OIG report

[JURIST] The Department of Justice improperly granted preferential treatment to conservative candidates in assessing job and summer internship applications under a 2002 screening program, according to a Tuesday report [PDF text] by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General [official website]. It was found that political officials played a greater role in the department's hiring processes, supporting long-standing accusations by critics that the Bush administration sought to politicize the traditionally non-partisan department.

In 2002, many deselections were required because of budget constraints. The data showed that candidates with Democratic Party and liberal affiliations apparent on their applications were deselected at a significantly higher rate than candidates with Republican Party, conservative, or neutral affiliations. This pattern continued to exist when we compared a subset of academically highly qualified candidates from the three groups. However, we found no other evidence that the members of the Screening Committee intentionally considered political or ideological affiliations in making their deselections, and the Committee members all denied doing so. While we were unable to prove that any specific members intentionally made deselections based on these prohibited factors, the data indicated that the Committee considered political or ideological affiliations when deselecting candidates.

During the next 3 years, from 2003 to 2005, the Screening Committee made few deselections, and we found no evidence that deselections were made based on political or ideological affiliations.

However, we found that in 2006 the Screening Committee inappropriately used political and ideological considerations to deselect many candidates. We determined that a disproportionate number of the deselected Honors Program and SLIP candidates had liberal affiliations as compared to the candidates with conservative affiliations. This pattern was also apparent when we examined the data for membership in the liberal American Constitution Society compared to the conservative Federalist Society for SLIP candidates and when we compared applicants with Democratic Party affiliations versus Republican Party affiliations for both Honors Program and SLIP candidates. The disproportionate pattern was also apparent when we examined candidates who were highly qualified academically.
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned [JURIST report] last year amidst related allegations concerning the alleged firing of US Attorneys for political reasons [JURIST news archive]. AP has more. The New York Times has additional coverage.

Top Democrats criticized the Bush administration for interfering in DOJ hiring practices. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) [official website] called on current Attorney General Michael Mukasey to implement the report's recommendations [press release]; Mukasey said in a Tuesday statement that he is already working to do so. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] said [press release] that further anticipated reports would "shed light on the extent to which the Bush administration has allowed politics to affect – and infect – the Department’s priorities, from law enforcement to the operation of the crucial Civil Rights Division to the Department’s hiring practices."

 

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