Friday, August 08, 2008

The Department of Just Us

By God, we love to compete
It’s so rewarding and neat
And you can always tell
Because of our smell
We’re frugal and chaste
Upright and laced
Not spendthrifts so bawdy
Or common or gaudy
We’re loyal and true
And nothing like you
Though we hold all the cards
And have special guards
To keep out most gnats
And all Democrats

Monica Goodling has brought a new dimension to the DOJ. We suspected that the department was corrupt given the leadership of John Ashcroft who, when on his own, could not win running as an incumbent against a dead man or the leadership of Alberto Gonzales who could not recall anything he said or did during his tenure or Michael Mukasey who could not call torture what it is unless if it were done to him. Corruption is as much a product of the inept as it is of the sinister schemer. The incompetent are slow to recognize the signs of corruption and are less likely to be able to respond effectively when it is uncovered. The incompetence can be technical, interpersonal or ideological. I believe that we have seen all three aspects in the past 7+ years of the George II reign. John draped marble statues so as to not offend the eye, yet allowed detention of Middle East residents of the US to be rounded up and incarcerated like criminals but without trials and he established the extraordinary system of detention and “enhanced interrogation” of Guantanamo. Alberto Gonzales furthered the policy of absolute executive immunity through his tacit if not direct approval of torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and sites of extraordinary rendition such as Syria. Ideology of “strict” Christian fundamentalism makes both marble modesty and torture in the defense of country “heroic.” International law sees these latter actions as illegal and yet none of the serial DOJ triumvirate admits illegality. Not incidentally, even the internal Inspector General of the Justice Department found serious lapses in law.
While one could point to defective leadership by the Attorney General to mitigate the actions of Monica Goodling, they are far more complex and extensive. The scope and nature of the corruption are vastly different. The Attorneys General affected our national appearance to the outside world and Alberto Gonzales affected the employment of some 93 politically appointed US Attorneys for the period of the Bush Administration. Monica Goodling potentially has affected the employment of 120,000 career attorneys in the Department of Justice for the indefinite future. The US Civil Service system has been a model merit system that uses testing and performance standards applied by other career servants and not political or religious grounds for hiring or promotion. Corruption of that scale has, until now, not ever been seriously threatened. What happened?
First, Monica Goodling may have graduated from a little known law school, but she knew enough about the law to plead the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution to prevent self-incrimination. She was one of about 150 graduates of Pat Robertson’s Regent University Law School absorbed by the White House after she was hired by the Republican National Committee. Remember John Ashcroft? He is now “Distinguished Professor of Law and Government” at Regent. The Huffington Post repots that Kay Coles James was named by Bush as head of the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (2001-2005). That job affected the careers of about 1.8 million federal civil service employees. Ms. James was formerly Dean of Regent’s Robertson School of Government. Accidental and coincidental, I am pretty sure! It was equally coincidental that Jim David, current Assistant dean for Administration in the Robertson School of Government served in the Justice Department as Deputy director for the Task Force for Faith Based and Community Initiative. Huffington quotes Jim David after the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans “We do not grieve, however, for the flooded and destroyed sex clubs that filled men with lust and degraded women.” “We do not miss the casinos that preyed upon individuals whose lack of self-control deprived families of needed food and shelter. We do not lament the destruction of voodoo stores prevalent in New Orleans before the flood.” In pleading the Fifth, Monica clearly chose the law rather than the Commandment to not bear false witness. Nice evangelist touch.
When we understand that Ms. Goodling took a direct hand in the hiring decisions, it is not comforting that she used Google to get background information in three major areas: political affiliation; religious and sexual orientation; and loyalty to GW Bush. These were not “tie-breakers,” but an integral part of the decision. There was no weight given to experience or what most of us would call “qualifications.” I do not know of a more direct way to ensure mediocrity or, worse, incompetence, than to systematically employ criteria that are irrelevant to the jobs being filled. As you have probably read, Goodling used the computer search engine using “god, guns+gays.” Other applicant key words included: “abortion,” “homosexual,” and “Florida recount.” On second thought, perhaps we should be grateful that the key words were not truly job requisites.
Now, I do not want to be naïve and assume that because Goodling is Republican, that she was therefore dishonest. Nor is it true that Conservatives are godless louts who always believe that the ends justify the means. What we need to understand is that this breech of the law and disregard for ethical behavior will have long term consequences that are highly negative and may lead some Democrats to “justify” partisan illegal behavior in hiring and firing and that the compromise of the Civil Service System is absolutely unacceptable as is the outsourcing of these jobs to contractors on a similar partisan basis. I understand that the hiring and firing practices of the 93 US Attorneys was also illegal. I don’t like it, but it is almost to be expected that some maneuvering will happen with political appointments even when the job as US Attorney is apolitical. The Civil Service must remain free from partisan hiring, promotion and firing if we are to ever attain even modest qualifications for labor. Let there be no compromise. Let the job essential qualifications determine the winners and losers. That gets me to Goodling’s sports analogy of “building a farm team” for the GOP. We have seen what the GOP did with the K Street project by teaming with the lobbyists to their self perpetuation and the sale of more earmarks than have ever been seen before or since. That was building the “dollar farm team.” We have seen the building of the “legal farm” through appointment of judges that agree with the unitary executive concept and executive immunity from prosecution for crimes.
I can recall some relatives in Albany, NY complaining that only opposing party cars parked on many Albany streets were towed during snowstorms. It was done using voter registration and automobile registration rolls. Partisanship will rear its ugly head in some unusual places. As Americans, we have an abiding interest in a clean and non-partisan Civil Service. It is not cute. It is not funny. It is illegal and it is damaging to organizational effectiveness. We cannot allow illegal “farm teams” to be part of our nation. And I am getting to hate sports analogies applied to non-sports, anyway. It seems to lead to cheerleading and winning and losing instead of building a government for and by the people.

George Giacoppe
8 August 2008

No comments: