A few weeks ago, a report came out blasting the hiring procedures that existed at the Department of Justice in prior years.  Because this is not a political blog, I left it for others to comment on it, such as The Word on Employment Law

But the basic gist of the report was that there were several instances where DOJ staffers improperly included political considerations in the hiring decisions of career staffers.  While there are definitely some political positions at the DOJ, there are also many nonpolitical career positions. 

Of course, for other companies, the issue may be something related — considering age in hiring decisions, or gender, or even physical disabilities.

Earlier today, I had the opportunity to hear from the current United States Attorney General Michael Mukasey directly at the ABA House of Delegates meeting in New York.  What was striking to me was not his comments about the decision not to prosecute the staff people responsible for the faulty hiring decisions, but his comments laying bare the breakdowns in supervision that occurred at the Department.  In essence, supervisors failed to supervise. (The full text of his speech is available here and a cell picture to get a flavor of the scene is attached):

Some people at the Department deviated from that strict standard, and the institution failed to stop them.

I want to stress that last point because there is no denying it: the system failed. The aABA Meeting scene of Mukaseyctive wrong-doing detailed in the two joint reports was not systemic in that only a few people were directly implicated in it. But the failure was systemic in that the system – the institution – failed to check the behavior of those who did wrong. There was a failure of supervision by senior officials in the Department. And there was a failure on the part of some employees to cry foul when they were aware, or should have been aware, of problems.

…. I am confident that the supervisors working under me know that they are expected to live up to their titles – to supervise – and that they have primary responsibility to ensure that hiring in their divisions and other units is lawful and is proper. I am also confident that, if problems were to recur and anyone in the Department became aware of them, those people would promptly alert more senior officials in the Department, up to and including me if necessary.

To me, Mukasey’s comments are a prime illustration that no matter what policies or procedures a company (or here, a government agency) has, those policies are worthless without supervisors willing to implement them. 

Don’t believe that this happens within your organization? Take a look at your annual performance review process.  If your organization is like most, the reviews are often-watered down as supervisors fail to do what is needed — supervise.  

When the failure occurs at the Department of Justice, it shows that these types of failures can occur anywhere.  Only through diligence of senior executives and dedicated human resources staff, can these failures be minimized.  Giving supervisors the tools to supervise can help your organization avoid the problems of the type at the Department of Justice.