April 14, 2007

Repairing the damage

This is a fascinating interview with Daniel Metcalfe, a senior attorney at the U.S. Dept. of Justice, who retired in 2006 as the director of the Office of Information and Privacy - the office that handles government secrecy and the FOIA. I won't comment on his opinions re: the current state of affairs at Justice, but he brings up a sharp point that few folks are discussing (at least, that I've seen). He notes:
But that strong tradition of independence over the previous 30 years was shattered in 2005 with the arrival of the White House counsel as a second-term AG. All sworn assurances to the contrary notwithstanding, it was as if the White House and Justice Department now were artificially tied at the hip -- through their public affairs, legislative affairs and legal policy offices, for example, as well as where you ordinarily would expect such a connection (i.e., Justice's Office of Legal Counsel). I attended many meetings in which this total lack of distance became quite clear, as if the current crop of political appointees in those offices weren't even aware of the important administration-of-justice principles that they were trampling.

This matters greatly to Justice Department employees of my generation. They are now the senior career cadre there, with the high-grade institutional knowledge that carries the department from one administration to the next, and when they see a new attorney general come from the White House Counsel's Office with a wave of young "Bushies" in tow and find their worst expectations quickly met, they just as quickly lose respect for nearly all of the department's political leadership, not to mention that leadership's "policy concerns." That respect is a vital thing, as fragile as it is essential, and now it's gone.

This is something that is extremely worrying. As the process of discovering what went on at DOJ grinds forward, pulled this way and that by various agendas and points of view (even if with the best motives), it must be kept clearly in mind that the DOJ is one of the rocks on which our Federal Government rests. The trust that the career personnel have in their leadership, in the very system within which that leadership operates, is critical. If enough DOJ personnel become disgusted or disillusioned or simply fired, at some point the 'glue' of any organization - the tacit knowledge base and value system shared among and passed down by its career or long-term members - will be lost or degraded.

Can we afford that? I contend that we cannot. We must keep in mind that any investigation of DOJ, of those who worked there, and what happened there, must be done with the clear understanding that the objective is the preservation and, if necessary, restoration of the traditional functioning of the Department.

Thanks to Laura Rozen's War and Piece, without which I wouldn't have seen this article.

Posted by jbz at April 14, 2007 7:30 PM | TrackBack

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