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More Corruption at Mukasey’s Justice Department?

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Is the Justice Department the single most corrupt agency on the Washington horizon?

True, when it comes to the pettiest forms of corruption, such as the corruptly influenced award of contracts, it would appeared to be edged out by Housing and Urban Development, whose secretary, Alphonso Jackson, tendered his resignation yesterday. In a farewell message, his longtime friend and supporter, President George W. Bush, said that Jackson was “a good man” and “a great American success story.” It is hard to challenge Bush’s second point, after all, what other cabinet officer in recent memory has done so much for the businesses of his close associates as Jackson? Today’s Dallas Morning News collects the corruption charges, and the rap sheet runs much deeper than I knew. Not of course that any of this would interest Mukasey’s Justice Department. After all, Jackson is a member of the “home team.”

And no other agency has the funds and resources to misallocate that the Department of Defense has. Still, when it comes to brazen politicization (which Attorney General Mukasey, to his credit, acknowledged was a form of corruption in a recent speech in San Francisco) and the use of its assets and powers to benefit the governing political party, the Justice Department may well emerge as the public corruption poster child. When Inspector General Glenn Fine issues his eagerly awaited probe into what really went on with the U.S. attorneys’ firings, we’ll have a better glimpse into the inner dealings at Justice—for the moment, the agency that Mukasey heads is adamant about shielding all its inner dealings with at-times-comical invocations of privilege designed to cloak it from the probing eyes of Congress.

And, speaking of children, the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) is right up there in the fray. Youth Today’s Patrick Boyle reports on the curious conduct of J. Robert Flores, the man President Bush put in charge of OJJ in 2002. Mr. Flores, it appears, is a man right after the heart of former Housing Secretary Jackson: he knows who is worthy of receiving millions in federal contracts and doesn’t think much of the idea of competitive bidding.

A Congressional probe has been launched by Henry Waxman’s House Oversight Committee into how Flores “bypassed the top-scoring bidders for National Juvenile Justice program grants, giving money instead to bidders that its staff ranked far lower,” Youth Today reports.

The probe was requested by Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), who was approached by administrators at Winona State University after the Youth Today story was published. The university’s proposal for its National Child Protection Training Center was ranked fourth by OJJDP staff, with an average score of 96.5, but it didn’t win a grant. The university is in Walz’s district, and he helped get the center $1.2 million in earmarks in the 2008 Justice Department budget, including $446,000 from OJJDP.

So the highly qualified, well-scored contenders didn’t get the grants. But who did? The Juvienation blog reports:

Meanwhile, Flores handed the bulk of the cash to lower-scoring organizations he deemed his favorites. Word has gotten out among organizations that scored high but didn’t win; some of them are furious and want OJJDP or Congress to explain the process. “We all play by the rules,” said Earl Dunlap, CEO of the National Partnership for Juvenile Services, whose losing bid ranked second out of 129. “The rules for Flores are pretty much whatever he decides when he gets out of bed in the morning.”

Flores, Boyle wrote, “has repeatedly pushed to get agency money to organizations that fit his priorities, which include faith-based programs and those that combat child sexual victimization.” Thus the low-scoring Best Friends Foundation (79.5), headed by the wife of right-wing moral crusader (and gambling addict!) Bill Bennett, won more than $1 million for its abstinence-only/anti-drug curriculum. Enough Is Enough, which combats sexual predation online–admittedly a worthy cause, but not quite in line with the historical mission of the OJJDP–took $750,000. The faith-based Victory Outreach Special Services got a windfall of $1.2 million but had to turn down the grant because, Boyle noted, “it doesn’t have the organizational capacity to carry it out.”

One surprise: I don’t see any awards to former Attorney General Ashcroft, a staple of DOJ competition-free contractual largesse, in this group.

The Flores contract awards help us understand once more exactly how the Justice Department defines “public integrity.” Doling out public funds to your political retainers and friends and circumventing a legally mandated public competition system is how the Republican Party and its minions understand the political game is to be played. It would be “corrupt” if Democrats played by these rules, of course, but the rules are suspended for the G.O.P. And what better venue to use to dole out contracts to political friends and retainers than the Department of Justice itself?

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