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DOJ Honors Program Contaminated by Cronyism

Does the politicization of Department of Justice (DOJ) under the Bush Administration have no bounds?  Sure, perhaps former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, but none of us would dispute that the President has the power to put anyone he chooses at the helm of DOJ, subject only to confirmation by the Senate.  That's how our system works.

But the politicization of the hiring process at DOJ penetrated far below the top levels, contaminating even  the supposedly merit-based, DOJ Honors program designed to attract top talent to government service, according to a report prepared by the Department's inspector general. [Source: New York Times and Associated Press].  The report found that many qualified candidates were rejected because their resumes were regarded as reflecting liberal leanings, such as membership in Greenpeace or previous employment with a Democratic Senator.  By contrast, less qualified students perceived as "conservative" because of, for example, affiliation with the Federalist Society, received favorable treatment.  The evidence is stark; from the AP story:

[i]n 2002, many applicants who identified themselves as Democrats or were members of liberal-leaning organizations were rejected while GOP loyalists with fewer legal skills were hired, the report found. Of 911 students who applied for full-time Honors jobs that year, 100 were identified as liberal -- and 80 were rejected. By comparison, 46 were identified as conservative, and only four didn't get a job offer.

Though advisers to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft introduced a political slant to the honors program in 2002, use of a candidate's political background as a litmus test for hiring accelerated in 2006, not surprisingly under Gonzales.

Some administrative officials defended the policy as a way to increase the diversity of the Honors Program, by reaching out to candidates at schools beyond the traditional Ivy League feeders.  Yet even taking officials at their word, surely they could have developed a more suitable process for expanding the program to include a wider swath of candidates than basing selection exclusively on politics. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on June 25, 2008 at 12:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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