Congressional investigators are faulting the Justice Department for not routinely evaluating its ethics program or providing enough training on ethics.
The General Accounting Office, in a report released Wednesday, also said the Justice Department is the only federal agency that does not require many of its employees to file confidential financial disclosure forms."Other agencies have found such reports to be a necessary part of their ethics program," the GAO said.
High-ranking Justice employees, like those at other agencies, must submit public financial disclosure forms under the 1978 Ethics in Government Act.
But every agency except Justice requires civil servants with significant duties and responsibilities to file the confidential forms listing assets, investments and a spouse's job.
"This deviation from the practice elsewhere in the government is based on Justice's view that there has been no legal authority to require confidential reports since January 1979 when the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 took effect," said the GAO, Congress' auditing arm.
Justice officials have said they will ask for the confidential forms when the Office of Government Ethics, which monitors the act, submits final regulations, possibly this fall.
An official at the ethics office said Justice is the only agency that has balked at the confidential forms.
"We have recognized for years that they (Justice Department officials) desperately need a confidential system," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They are the main law enforcement branch; they should have it."
The GAO said the overall Justice ethics program "contains many of the basic elements required by law and regulations. ... However, certain required elements are missing."
Ethics programs are handled by the various divisions of the Justice Department. Allegations of ethical misconduct are reported to the Office of Professional Responsibility, which reports to the attorney general.
As a result of the decentralization, procedures on how to implement ethics programs differ at the department. "For example, some components' procedures for reviewing public financial disclosure reports were more comprehensive than others," the report said.
Moreover, Justice "has not periodically evaluated the ethics program and not all of the Justice components have provided formal ethics training."
Without proper evaluation, department officials are unable to determine if various divisions are "properly reviewing and certifying public financial disclosure reports," the GAO said.
The report suggests periodic evaluations of the department's ethics programs, and a new program to train Justice employees in ethics and standards of conduct matters, including post-employment.
The report was released as Attorney General Richard L. Thornburgh assumes command of the department with a promise to review the department's operations thoroughly.
Thornburgh succeeded Edwin Meese III, whose ethical conduct is still under review by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility.
The report was requested last December by Reps. William D. Ford, D-Mich., and Gerry Sikorski, D-Minn.