- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Under investigation by federal prosecutors, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s administration is tightening its rules for hiring interns — positions that often have gone to people with political connections to the Democratic governor.

A memo obtained by the Associated Press also emphasizes that government contracts must be free of political taint. It lays out detailed procedures to follow when a state agency hires an independent contractor to do specialized work that a state employee otherwise would perform.

The July 26 memo from Mr. Blagojevich’s top lawyer, William Quinlan, said the administration is “firmly committed” to following employment laws that limit the role of politics and give military veterans first chance at state jobs.

Changes to the internship program mean experienced government employees are no longer supposed to be given important state jobs while being labeled “intern,” a position exempt from some hiring regulations.

The program, in which the average age is 31, included many campaign contributors or their relatives. Because they were considered interns and not true state employees, they could be hired without going through normal procedures.

Internships went to a spouse and cousin of top Blagojevich aides, the 60-year-old relative of a Democratic congressman, a lawmaker’s son who already was on the state payroll in a similar capacity, and a longtime state employee and former campaign staffer who was named one agency’s $54,000 human-resources director.

U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said his office has found credible witnesses to “very serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud” in the first-term governor’s administration.

Mr. Blagojevich has not been charged with any crime, and he denies any wrongdoing. The memo comes 3 years into an administration that has claimed it erased politics from the hiring formula.

Spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said it merely reflects Mr. Blagojevich’s efforts to improve hiring procedures.

“We’ve said from the beginning that we’ll look for ways to change and improve the system, and we remain committed to doing that,” Miss Ottenhoff said in an e-mail message Monday.

She would not respond to follow-up questions.

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