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Grassley speaks out about U.S. Marshals Service allegations

US Marshals ServiceBy The Iowa Statesman

 

The following are the prepared remarks of a floor speech given yesterday by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) regarding the allegations of misconduct at the U.S. Marshals Service.

Mr. President, the United States Marshals Service performs many important functions.  Marshals protect Federal Judges, they transport Federal prisoners and they apprehend fugitives.  The Marshals operate the Witness Security Program and they manage the Asset Forfeiture Program.  The work is vital and sometimes dangerous.

Given the important nature of the work it is all the more essential that its leaders carry out their mission with integrity and openness.  Unfortunately, the evidence suggests there are serious questions about the leadership of the Marshals Service.

The growing number of allegations brought to my office by whistleblowers is alarming.  It suggests there may be a pattern of mismanagement.  In several letters to the Justice Department, I have asked about multiple personnel actions allegedly driven by favoritism rather than merit.

The first example involves the Director of the U.S. Marshals Service, Stacia Hylton.  In September 2011, Director Hylton sent an e-mail from her personal e-mail address to Kimberly Beal.  At the time, Beal was the Deputy Assistant Director of the Asset Forfeiture Division.  The e-mail included the resume of an applicant for a highly paid contractor position.

Beal apparently went to unusual lengths to ensure that the applicant, who knew Director Hylton in college, was hired.  E-mails indicate that Ms. Beal inserted herself into the hiring process even though a contractor representative told her the applicant was unqualified.  She directed subordinates to remain silent about the applicant’s lack of qualifications.

Ms. Beal traveled to Boston to interview the applicant in person.  According to whistleblowers, she did not travel to interview other candidates for similar positions.  After the contractor hired the applicant, Director Hylton placed Ms. Beal in the position of Acting Assistant Director of the Asset Forfeiture Division, a position she now holds permanently.

In yet another example, an Assistant Director reportedly directed subordinates to offer a lucrative contract position to a person with whom she allegedly had a personal relationship.

Gamesmanship of this sort undermines the confidence of dedicated Marshals Service employees in their leaders.  I could go on and on with examples just like these that have been pouring in to my office.

Another problem area is the alleged mismanagement of the Assets Forfeiture Fund.  The law requires that proceeds generated from asset sales be used to operate the Asset Forfeiture Program, compensate victims and support law enforcement.  Yet it appears that some in leadership use the fund to feather their own nests.  Money is spent on “best of the best” in office furnishings and decorations, instead of what’s really needed to enhance law enforcement.

In one example, the Fund was used to purchase a 22 thousand dollar conference table.  In another example, the Fund was used to buy 57 square feet of “top of the line” granite for the Assets Forfeiture Academy in Houston.  The Marshals Service claims it cannot even figure out how much the granite cost.  Whistleblowers say the official who approved it told the supplier that “cost was not a factor.”  And that official has dismissed concerns about wasteful spending of asset forfeiture money on the grounds that it does not come from appropriated funds.

That is not responsible leadership.

All money collected through the power of government needs to be spent carefully.  Every dollar wasted on unnecessary luxuries in Marshals Service offices is a dollar that cannot support real law enforcement priorities, as the law requires.  The proceeds of asset forfeitures should not be a slush fund for the personal whims of unaccountable bureaucrats.

And how has the Justice Department responded to these allegations?

When I asked the Department to explain the efforts to have Director Hylton’s favored candidate hired by a contractor, the Department told me that Director Hylton “did not recommend” the applicant “for any position.”

The Marshals Service says it consulted with its Office of General Counsel before the Department sent its letter denying any improper hiring practices.  That is disturbing because the Office of General Counsel has known about these allegations since December 2013.  Still, the Justice Department told me that no one did anything wrong.

Someone in the Marshals Service General Counsel’s Office had an obligation to speak up before the Justice Department issued a false denial.

They should have known better.

About three weeks later, the Department retracted its earlier denial.  In a second response, the Department attached additional evidence that, in its words, “appears to be inconsistent with representations” it had previously made.

That evidence was an e-mail chain showing that then Deputy Assistant Director Beal had, in fact, received the applicant’s resume from Director Hylton’s personal e-mail address.  She then forwarded it to other senior leadership, stating that the “Director . . . highly recommends” the applicant.  That evidence directly contradicts the denial that the Department initially sent to the Judiciary Committee.

You would think the Department would insist on an independent inquiry after being misled like that.  Unfortunately, the Department is still allowing the Marshals Service to investigate itself.

Justice Department headquarters is not doing its job when it fails to supervise components of the Department.  There needs to be better supervision and a truly Independent inquiry to get to the bottom of these allegations.

Finally, I want to recognize the courageous Whistleblowers who are bringing these shortcomings to our attention.  As often happens, many of these whistleblowers have faced retaliation for speaking up, and they all fear more.

Multiple whistleblowers allege that senior leaders submit FOIA requests to seek information on employees who may have made protected disclosures.  That is not the purpose of FOIA.

Multiple whistleblowers also allege that since receiving my letters, managers within the U.S. Marshals Service have been on the hunt for the identities of those who have made protected disclosures to my office.

This behavior is absolutely unacceptable.

Maybe instead of spending time targeting the people who are trying to bring wrongdoing to light, the Marshals should focus on providing full and accurate answers to my questions.

The work of the Marshals Service is vital.  The men and women doing that work deserve not just our gratitude but our support as well.  That support includes demanding responsible and accountable leadership.