Federal employees are prevented from hiring their family members, and instead all job applicants are evaluated on purely merit-based criteria. But an investigation found officials in an office at the Department of Justice were engaging in rampant nepotism.
Eight Justice Department officials illegally hired or encouraged others to hire their relatives into positions within the department, internal investigators concluded in a report that found nepotism common inside the government's primary law enforcement agency.
Thursday's report is not the first time the department's Justice Management Division has faced scrutiny by the department's inspector general. Reports in 2004 and 2008 accused the office of a lack of "ethical standards" when it came to some hiring practices, and encouraged the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy for nepotism in the future.
But investigators found several instances of managers continuing to hire each other's relatives, including an assistant director hiring the daughter of a deputy director. In exchange, the deputy director hired the brother of the assistant director. Another woman "undertook a sustained campaign" to get someone within the department to hire her daughter, including altering hiring notices to make them more suited for her child, the inspector general found.
And the investigators determined that most of the individuals lied in an attempt to cover up the hirings.
“The department takes seriously the findings in this report, and we are moving immediately to address the report’s findings,” said Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokeswoman, in an interview with The Washington Post.
The nepotism happened under the watch of Mari Barr Santangelo, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Human Resources and Administration. Although the investigation found no wrongdoing on the part of Santangelo herself, the inspector general scolded her for not responding to indicators there was rampant cronyism in the division. Following the 2008 report, Santangelo had promised "absolute adherence" to hiring standards, the report said.
The inspector general's office only got wind of the most recent round of hiring when a former DOJ employee revealed concerns to Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.
The nepotism doesn't stop at the eight officials, however. The study found it was not unusual for friends and relatives of JMD employees to be hired as clerks and interns.
The Department of Justice is the government's law enforcement agency, and contains such groups as the FBI and the DEA.
The Justice Management Division is the DOJ's management and operations arm, containing offices like human resources and budget.
"Nepotism" or "cronyism" are names given to the practice of hiring close friends or family members.
The Inspector General is an independent watchdog office within each government agency tasked with investigating wrongdoing.