Probe cites Justice employees for schemes to hire relatives

Looking for that edge in the job search? For one division in the Justice Department, you just needed to be related to the right people.

A new report by the department's inspector general alleges that several career employees inside the Justice Management Division worked to hire their own friends and relatives into the department, in turn violating anti-nepotism rules, federal law and other standards.

The improper actions by senior officials of the division, including alleged violation of the federal nepotism statute, date back to the previous administration. At least 14 times since May 2008, the division hired or was pushed to hire personnel at the behest of a family member working in the division or as a result of family ties, the new report says.

In June 2010, for example, the son of a top-ranking division official joined the division after his mother told a human resources official her son couldn't find an internship. In another instance, two senior officials "simultaneously attempted" to get the other's child hired by the division.

"We found that eight different current or former (division) officials, all at either the GS 15 grade level or members of the Senior Executive Service, violated applicable statutes and regulations in seeking the appointment of their relatives to positions within (the division)," a statement from the inspector general's office accompanying the report said.

As career employees, the officials identified in the report are not political appointees.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said the department takes the report's findings "seriously" and, "We are moving immediately to address the report's findings."

"The attorney general and deputy attorney general have made it very clear to Justice Management Division leadership that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated, that the department must maintain a zero tolerance policy and that swift and decisive action must be taken to deal with those involved in these activities," she said.

The inspector general's investigation was initiated in late 2010 after Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., forwarded information he received from a former Justice Department employee to the inspector general's office. The allegations received at the time described "collusion" between department employees "to illegally hire each other's family," the inspector general's office said.

That investigation was the third such investigation into improper hiring practices within the Justice Management Division. In 2004, the inspector general's office found that a top official manipulated the competitive selection process to ensure that certain favored individuals were hired. Four years later, in 2008, an investigation found that another top official violated multiple laws and regulations by hiring and promoting a family member, according to the inspector general's office.

In its latest report, the inspector general makes several recommendations, including "that JMD take disciplinary action against the employees who committed the violations described in this report."

According to the Justice Department's website, the Justice Management Division advises "the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of various issues related to the operation of the Department."