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Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee - Mismanagement at the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice

Hearing

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Today, the Judiciary Committee examines a report released on March 12 by the Inspector General regarding the politicization, polarization, and mismanagement occurring at the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice--specifically the Division's Voting Section. The findings of this report include evidence of inappropriate conduct by political appointees, harassment of employees because of their political views, selective enforcement of voting laws, and misleading testimony by the Division head--Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez.

These findings point to a deep ideological polarization--giving rise to internal disputes and mistrust, which has harmed the efficacy of this Division. The Inspector General's Report, in part, concludes, "[t]he cycles of actions and reactions [that] resulted from this mistrust were, in many instances, incompatible with the proper functioning of a component of the Department."

The Division is entrusted with the authority to protect the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, and to enforce laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, religion, familial status and national origin. The report, however, describes a Division tainted by partisanship; unfairly favoring one group over another, both in its enforcement of the laws and in its workplace culture.

As the Inspector General's report states, "the high partisan stakes associated with some of the statutes that the Voting Section enforces have contributed to polarization and mistrust within the Section." The report, however, makes clear that other components within the Department with enforcement authority over equally controversial subject matter "do not appear to suffer from the same degree of polarization and internecine conflict." The difference, according to the report, is "a function of leadership and culture."

The report covers the time period between 2001 and the end of 2012. It's clear, however, that little has changed since then at the Division. For example, just a few months ago, we found this -

This is a Facebook post by Dan Freeman, a lawyer in the Voting Section of the Department of Justice, who proudly announced that he--quote--"started the crowd booing when Paul Ryan came out" at the Presidential Inauguration in January. His actions suggest that a climate of open and unabashed partisanship still prevails at the Division. To our knowledge, Mr. Freeman has not been disciplined in any way.

Other examples of this kind of unacceptable conduct include:

blatantly partisan political commentary found in e-mails sent by some Voting Section employees on Department computers;
Section employees posting comments on widely-read websites concerning Voting Section work and personnel; and
in one instance, an employee writing a comment to an article concerning an internal Department investigation of potential misconduct by a Section manager that read: "Geez, reading this just makes me want to go out and choke somebody. At this point, I'd seriously consider going in tomorrow and hanging a noose in someone's office to get myself fired, but they'd probably applaud the gesture and give me a promotion for doing it…."

One overarching question leaps from this report: with this sort of palpable dysfunction at the Division, what if anything has Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez done to remedy it? With this nomination by President Obama to be the next Secretary of Labor, the American people deserve to know whether Mr. Perez is capable of properly managing a government agency.

The perception alone of partisan or racial bias undermines the core goals of this Division. I agree with the Inspector General's statement that "Division leadership needs to promote impartiality, continuity, and professionalism as critical values in the Voting Section," and that "leadership and career staff alike must embrace a culture where ideological diversity is viewed as beneficial."

These and other incidents we will hear about today are a disservice to the American people, who rely on the Civil Rights Division to protect them by enforcing our nation's anti-discrimination laws in a professional and unbiased manner. The IG report we will discuss today is simply another example of the questionable management practices of Thomas Perez, who has now been nominated by President Obama to be the next Secretary of Labor. Just two days ago, Chairman Issa, Ranking Member Grassley and I released a joint staff report on Thomas Perez's involvement in a secret deal with the City of St. Paul that ultimately cost the taxpayers as much as $200 million. We intend to continue our investigation into this troubling matter.

I look forward to hearing from all our witnesses today.


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