This column by ACRU Policy Board member Hans von Spakovsky was published April 18, 2016 by PJ Media.
On April 12, PJ Media Legal Editor J. Christian Adams reported that DOJ sources had revealed how two top employees in the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service (CRS) used taxpayer money for personal travel. The DOJ sources also revealed how these two top employees were responsible for a culture of incompetence, political decision-making, and gross mismanagement.
Here, we reveal that those same sources told Adams and me about corruption by other CRS managers, and about a hostile work environment that includes bullying and discrimination — particularly against anyone who complains about the waste, fraud, and abuse.
Click here to read the letter employees sent to Attorney General Loretta Lynch — back in January — notifying her of the situation. Three months have passed since this letter was delivered, but neither the Justice Department’s inspector general nor Loretta Lynch has done anything about it, per the sources.
As its webpage says, CRS is supposed to be the Justice Department’s ”peacemaker” for community conflicts and tensions. But from the atmosphere described to us, it sounds like CRS needs its own peacemaker to clean up what appears to be one of the most dysfunctional offices within the entire Justice Department.
This is the same CRS that has violated its own stated mission to calm the waters in local communities. Instead, it has tried to ramp up hostility and violence in tense situations.
During the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, CRS helped to organize rallies and protests against George Zimmerman.
CRS did the same thing in Ferguson, pouring gasoline on the flames of protests, violence, and looting. This included training demonstrators on how to protest and “spreading the word” that what had happened was racially motivated — which the grand jury investigation concluded was completely untrue.
One observer said the CRS basically put “a keg of dynamite in the middle of Ferguson” and lit the fuse. A source inside DOJ confirmed that CRS was stirring things up instead of trying to calm things down.
In addition to the information from Adams’ article about Thomas Battles and Synthia Taylor, two regional directors of CRS, our sources exposed misbehavior by several other directors, including hiring individuals with no experience or background in dispute resolution. Taylor, by the way, has had complaints filed against her by most of her employees, our sources related.
According to one of the complaints, a director based in New York, Reinaldo Rivera, who is of Puerto Rican descent, scheduled excessive trips to Puerto Rico, similar to the personal travel of other directors on the taxpayer’s dime. When this was reported, said our sources, he was allowed to work from home for over a year with no responsibilities. In other words, he remained employed by CRS and got a paid vacation — courtesy of taxpayers.
Another director, Harpreet Mokha, is unqualified for his position because he has no experience in mediation, conciliation, alternative dispute resolution, or strategic communication, our sources say. They also assert that Mokha mismanaged CRS’s response to the Baltimore riots and neglected basic administrative tasks until staff badgered him to do so. These sources claim that, until recently, he averaged only a couple of hours in the office per week.
In fact, these sources say that CRS’s activities appear to be geared towards trying to improve its own public image “rather than to improve the situation in Baltimore.”
The sources also revealed that at least one of the managers has had an “inappropriate relationship” with a supervisor, who allowed that manager to get away with travel fund abuse, “time card fraud, harassment of employees,” and even the termination of a contractor who “questioned” the manager’s time sheet.
This relationship wasn’t a secret inside the agency; the sources say CRS’s general counsel is well aware of it.
Rather than addressing these issues, Deputy Director of CRS Gilbert Moore has approved allowing his regional directors to use government travel funds for personal travel.
Numerous employee complaints have been filed against him, and our sources say he transfers employees “rather than address systemic bullying and mismanagement when brought to his attention.”
The complaints are not just coming from a few disgruntled employees. Apparently, a substantial number of the staff of CRS has filed numerous complaints, culminating in letters being sent to the Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and Carolyn Lerner at the Office of Special Counsel.
These letters say that conditions are so bad that they “collectively and individually prevent agency efficiency and effectiveness.” In other words, the CRS can’t do the job it’s supposed to do.
These problems have been brought to the attention of Director of CRS Grande Lum and Deputy Director Gilbert Moore “numerous times via phone conversations as well as numerous statements written by staff to no avail.”
The letters complain that it has become “routine” at CRS to transfer any employees who complain about management abuse “to other regions while protecting management”; to continue to hang on to “excess empty office space at a great cost to taxpayers”; and to refuse to “address the misuse of federal funds by some Regional Directors for personal travel.”
The complaint about excess office space is confirmed by a video provided by the sources that shows large expanses of empty office space in CRS offices in different parts of the country where the agency only has a few employees.
American taxpayers are paying for that, too.
The letter to the IG, AG, and Special Counsel complain that no punitive measures have been taken against any of these regional directors despite the staff of CRS providing “ample evidence of bullying, gender bias, fraud, waste, abuse, intimidation, breach of IT security, retaliation, persistent hostile work environments, and a lack of integrity and valid erosion of trust.”
Such retaliation has included management damaging the “federal employment record” of some of the “agency’s most productive employees” because they reported “legitimate concerns against management.”
The letters claim that this gross mismanagement “impacts an estimated 20 out of the 30 non-supervisory employees within the agency” and there are numerous current and former CRS staff members “eager to assist any efforts to address these issues.” The sources claim that the way this problem has been mishandled is an “affront to the integrity of the U.S. Department of Justice.” But under the current leadership, “we expect that agency turnover will near an all-time high.”
As a result, these CRS employees are requesting “protection under the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012.”
The possible misbehavior, fraud and abuse described in these letters and directly to J. Christian Adams and me by these sources is extraordinary. Unfortunately though, they’re not terribly surprising given the many other examples of this type of behavior that we have covered over the past few years at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Congress, through its oversight authority, should demand answers from Loretta Lynch about what is being done to investigate and correct this problem and to punish those who, it seems, may have defrauded American taxpayers.