How Many More Mike Browns Are Out There?

A TIME inquiry finds that at top positions in some vital government agencies, the Bush Administration is putting connections before experience

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    Johnson says political connections may be a thumb on the scale between two candidates with equal credentials, but rarely are they the overriding factor in a personnel decision. Speaking of all such appointments, not just the IGs, he said, "I am aware of one or two situations where politics carried the day and the person was not in the job a year later."

    Still, several of the President's IGs fit comfortably into the friends-and-family category. Until recently, the most famous Bush inspector general was Janet Rehnquist, a daughter of the late Chief Justice. Rehnquist had been a lawyer for the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and worked in the counsel's office during George H.W. Bush's presidency before becoming an IG at the Department of Health and Human Services. In that sense, she was qualified for the job. But a scathing report by the Government Accountability Office asserted that she had "created the perception that she lacked appropriate independence in certain situations" and had "compromised her ability to serve as an effective leader." Rehnquist also faced questions about travel that included sightseeing and free time, her decision to delay an audit of the Florida pension system at the request of the President's brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, and the unauthorized gun she kept in her office. She resigned in June 2003 ahead of the report.

    Three weeks ago, however, Joseph Schmitz supplanted Rehnquist as the most notorious Bush IG. Schmitz, who worked as an aide to former Reagan Administration Attorney General Ed Meese and whose father John was a Republican Congressman from Orange County, Calif., quit his post at the Pentagon following complaints from Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa. In particular, Grassley questioned Schmitz's acceptance of a trip to South Korea, paid for in part by a former lobbying client, according to Senate staff members and public lobbying records, and Schmitz's use of eight tickets to a Washington Nationals baseball game. But those issues aren't the ones that led to questions about his independence from the White House. Those concerns came to light after Schmitz chose to show the White House his department's final report on a multiyear investigation into the Air Force's plan to lease air-refueling tankers from Boeing for much more than it would have cost to buy them. After two weeks of talks with the Administration, Schmitz agreed to black out the names of senior White House officials who appeared to have played a role in pushing and approving what turned out to be a controversial procurement arrangement. Schmitz ultimately sent the report to Capitol Hill, but Senators are irked that they have not yet received an original, unredacted copy.

    Congressional aides said they are still scratching their heads about how Schmitz got his job. He now works for the parent company of Blackwater USA, a military contractor that, in his old job, he might have been responsible for investigating. --With reporting by Massimo Calabresi

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