Critics of President Obama’s nominee for director of the U.S. Marshals Service vowed to take their fight to the full Senate after a key committee Wednesday backed Justice Department veteran Stacia M. Hylton for the job despite concerns from watchdog groups about her ties to the private prison industry.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to move Ms. Hylton’s nomination to the full Senate amid increasing opposition from criminal-justice and union groups that say her recent consulting work for a private prison company poses a conflict of interest.
The committee approved the nomination by voice vote.
Ms. Hylton earned at least $110,000 as a private consultant earlier this year for the Florida-based GEO Group, which has held tens of millions of dollars in prison contracts with the Marshals Service. Ms. Hylton previously worked for the government as federal detention trustee and has held several Justice Department posts.
“We’re disappointed the Judiciary Committee didn’t seem to take these concerns to heart,” said Alex Friedmann, associate editor of Prison Legal News, one of the groups opposing the nomination along with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
On Monday, AFSCME’s director of legislation, Charles M. Loveless, told the Judiciary Committee in a letter that Ms. Hylton’s acceptance of consulting fees from the GEO Group “is a clear conflict of interest.”
“This is a revolving door that needs to be shut,” he wrote.
Mr. Obama has vowed to close the revolving door between government and special interests. In October, a White House official told The Washington Times that Ms. Hylton would not require a waiver from Mr. Obama’s ethics rules, which bar appointees for two years from working on matters involving recent clients. The official said she easily could be recused from particular matters involving the GEO Group.
The Marshals Service - which is responsible for, among other things, housing and transporting federal prisoners from the time they are brought into custody until they are either acquitted or incarcerated - accounts for a significant source of revenue for the GEO Group, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings by the company.
Despite the criticism, the issue of Ms. Hylton’s consulting for GEO received scant attention during her recent nomination hearing. And senators said nothing of the opposition in moving her nomination forward.
During her confirmation hearing last month, Ms. Hylton said she had no direct involvement in contract awards as trustee. She also said she incorporated the consulting business before leaving federal service but that it remained dormant until after she left the government.
“I incorporated the consulting business about a month before I retired just simply so I could begin the paperwork and begin to set up the office,” she said, responding to questions about her consulting from Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat.
Ms. Hylton also said she had recused herself from conversations about the private prison industry and that federal ethics officials had cleared her recent consulting work for the corrections giant Geo Group.
“I did follow all ethics requirements and regulations and worked closely with the ethics office,” she said.
Other groups opposing the nomination are the Alliance for Justice, the National Lawyers Guild, Detention Watch Network, Grassroots Leadership, the Human Rights Defense Center, International CURE, Justice Policy Institute, Public Citizen and the Private Corrections Working Group.
Groups supporting Ms. Hylton’s nomination include the 26,000-member Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association, which endorsed her in a letter to the Judiciary Committee citing Ms. Hylton’s three decades in law enforcement and her “distinguished and extensive career.”