Politics in U.S. hiring: When is it improper?
At the Justice Department, clear lines were crossed, report says.
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Goodling has acknowledged in sworn congressional testimony that she improperly took political considerations into account in hiring, but said this occurred in only a small number of cases.Skip to next paragraph
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Gonzales appeared unaware of the political nature of the hiring process in his department, according to investigators. In a statement Tuesday he said political considerations "should play no part in the hiring of career officials at the Department of Justice."
Of course, on one level political considerations are a main driver of hiring decisions in Washington. Presidents generally hire Cabinet secretaries and White House staff from their own party. The post of attorney general is political.
Under these top jobs, a small number of senior aides are also political hires. These allow chief executives to attempt to implement their policies and steer large bureaucratic government organizations.
But the vast majority of government workers serve in civil service posts where hiring is intended to be exempt from political influence. This prevents a wholesale disruption of government services when administrations change and is intended to guard against graft and cronyism.
With the Justice Department in particular, it is intended to help ensure that the scales of justice do not tip to left or right, politically speaking.
"When you're talking about the Justice Department, a group that's charged with upholding the law, it's particularly disturbing to hear allegations that they're violating the law," says Maureen O'Rourke, dean of Boston University School of Law.
Previous investigations have alleged that politics played a role in appointments to Justice honors and intern programs. The nearly simultaneous firing of eight US attorneys also remains a live issue. While these top regional jobs are political appointments, critics allege that the mass US attorney firing was driven by improperly political reasons, such as an attempt to sway particular prosecutions.
"Some worry that too much politics has crept into the professional, get-the-job-done level," says Ms. O'Rourke. "That's not a glamorous issue that would make it to the forefront of the election campaign, but I think it's an issue that the next president will have to deal with."
As to Justice, the question of who knew what remains relevant. Justice investigators concluded that the White House political affairs office recommended a majority of the immigration judge candidates that Goodling and Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to Gonzales, considered hiring.
Then there is the issue of whether, and how, the improper hiring might be undone. "Can you purge the people hired improperly?" says Professor Tobias.
Current Attorney General Michael Mukasey said he was "of course disturbed" by the new report's allegations. He said he would make sure "that the conduct described in this report does not occur again at the department."