Fixing the Bureaucracy: Will DOJ Be Obama's Most Difficult Task?

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 11:53 AM EST

The Obama Administration has to rebuild a lot of broken federal agencies: the FDA, the EPA, FEMA, and on and on. But there may be no federal body that has fallen further than the Department of Justice, which has gone from being a trustworthy independent actor to being an appendage of the White House run by nincompoops and right-wing zealots.

If you ask anyone who has worked in the Justice Department (and we have), they'll tell you that agency's most famous controversy — the fired US Attorneys scandal — was simply one stage in a long-running effort to politicize the place from top to bottom. Conservatives in, liberals out. And now an internal DOJ report has found new evidence that purge-like conditions were created inside the building by Bush political appointees. This would be hilarious if it wasn't so sad:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

To Bradley Schlozman, they were "mold spores," "commies" and "crazy libs."

He was referring to the career lawyers in the Justice Department's civil rights and voting rights divisions. From 2003 to 2006, Schlozman was a Bush appointee who supervised them. Along with several others, he came to symbolize the midlevel political appointees who brought a hard-edged ideology to the day-to-day workings of the Justice Department.

"My tentative plans are to gerrymander all of those crazy libs right out of the section," he said in an e-mail in 2003. "I too get to work with mold spores, but here in Civil Rights, we call them Voting Section attorneys," he confided to another friend.

He hoped to get rid of the "Democrats" and "liberals" because they were "disloyal" and replace them with "real Americans" and "right-thinking Americans."

He appears to have succeeded by his standards, according to an inspector general's report released Tuesday. Among the newly hired lawyers whose political or ideological views could be discerned, 63 of 65 lawyers hired under Schlozman had Republican or conservative credentials, the report said....

Joseph D. Rich, the former chief of the voting rights section at the Department of Justice, called Schlozman "probably the most miserable person I ever worked for." Rich had worked for the DOJ for 37 years and under seven presidents. But the situation at DOJ is not really about Schlozman, who has already moved on to private practice. It's about those 63 lawyers who were presumably hired because they shared Schlozman's political agenda. They'll be in the system for years. How do you balance them out or mitigate their impact without initiating a similarly slanted hiring drive that brings on nothing but liberals? That may be one of Barack Obama's most difficult tasks as he attempts to recreate a functioning federal bureaucracy.

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.