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Ashcroft's Sketchy Deal

January 18, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

Adam Hughes of OMB Watch passed along his take of the Justice Department contracting practice that Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Conyers (D-MI) recently called upon the GAO to investigate:

>The contract is for overseeing an out of court settlement the Justice Department reached with a knee and hip replacement company called Zimmer Holdings, Inc. from Warsaw, Indiana. Apparently Zimmer Holdings was accused of bribing giving kickbacks to doctors who used their knee and hip implants. Now the way these types of settlements work is that the monitoring company is paid directly by the offending business that it is supposed to be monitoring. Therefore, Ashcroft’s consulting firm will be paid directly by Zimmer Holdings – the very entity he is supposed to be overseeing to make sure, if you can believe this, they don’t make more illegal payments or bribes.
>It’s hard for me to even begin to describe the gut-wrenching, mind-boggling irony of this situation. First off, how can Mr. Ashcroft be expected to monitor a company in an independent manner that is paying him directly? Second, it’s not like Zimmer Holdings was accused of union-busting or providing unsafe working conditions for its employees. They were accused of bribing doctors! Wouldn’t it be reasonable to believe they could continue to attempt to offer illegal bribes? And how would the public know if they were doing that? Because the monitor company’s bills are not subject to an independent review, are we just supposed to take Mr. Ashcroft’s word for it?

>While I certainly wouldn’t accuse Mr. Ashcroft of being involved in covering up questionable activities or practices (cough), he isn’t the only one involved in contracts like these. In fact, they are being relied on by the Justice Department more and more. A new study by two lawyers in Texas has found there has been a 600 percent increase in these types of settlements between the department and large companies in the last five years. Even more amazing, the same prosecutor who awarded the contract to Ashcroft (Mr. Christopher Christie of New Jersey) has directed similar contracts to other former colleagues at the Justice Department, and several other former government officials with ties to the Bush administration have been awarded similar contracts since 2001 according to the Washington Post. While we all know Mr. Ashcroft is above reproach, I have no way to know whether these other former government officials are.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

The fact that the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Glenn Fine, is nowhere to be seen around this investigation reminds me of an important bill pending in Congress that seeks to strengthen the integrity and independence of inspector generals. The Improving Government Accountability Act has been approved by the House, but is currently in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee being negotiated with the administration. GoveExec has posted a CongressDaily article that explains the most recent developments in the negotiations.

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