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


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:

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.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.