Twenty years ago, off-duty Justice Department employees were getting drunk while in foreign nations and engaging in “public lewdness” and “racist conduct.”
Now, investigators have found the agency has done little to try to fix the problems in the intervening two decades, and that employees could still be participating in behavior that would reflect badly on the U.S.
“Employees should be made aware that poor decisions about their off-duty conduct have serious ramifications for their careers and Justice Department’s ability to carry out its mission,” said a report by the agency’s internal watchdog, the Inspector General.
The review was prompted by law enforcement agents who hired prostitutes while in Colombia to help set up a visit by President Barack Obama. The scandal most notably hit the U.S. Secret Service, but Justice investigators found three Drug Enforcement Administration agents were involved as well.
The IG said it made recommendations as far back as 1996 that the Justice Department increase its training of employees to include off-duty responsibilities and expectations of conduct.
“However, we found no indication that DOJ had revisited its off-duty conduct policies or training in any comprehensive manner since then, and no indication that DOJ, despite its significant international presence, had established a department-wide policy or training directed at off-duty conduct abroad,” investigators said.
The Justice Department said in a statement that they agreed with the IG’s recommendations, and were working to develop rules for overseas employees.
“The department will develop clear and comprehensive department-wide policy guidelines that communicates the department’s expectations regarding off-duty conduct,” the agency said.
It’s not just unbecoming conduct that investigators are worried about. They noted that Justice employees getting mixed up in drinking and drugs could easily lead to a situation where a foreign organization tries to blackmail them — or at least are able to learn something from an inebriated agent.
“If foreign intelligence services or criminal organizations can exploit the off-duty conduct of these employees, information sensitive enough to gravely compromise national security may be revealed,” the inspector general said.
Investigators said that both the State and Defense Departments have off-duty conduct training for personnel who are going overseas, and reiterated their nearly 20-year-old position that the Justice Department needs to step up how it prepares employees to travel internationally.
The IG noted that some employees have been confused what conduct is permissible because somethings that aren’t legal in the U.S. — like drug use and prostitution — are legal in the foreign countries federal workers travel to.