Federal agencies must avoid repeats of recent abuses of power in policy debates
Today, Protect the Public’s Trust announced it is investigating the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) recent decision to address alleged threats against school officials and is requesting documents from DOJ and the Departments of Education and Homeland Security. To protect the American public’s trust in its government it is essential that such a program is conducted with the utmost transparency and accountability to avoid potential abuses of power.
The potential for abuse of power is not theoretical. In recent years, the IRS was forced to apologize and pay millions in settlements to dozens of organizations it denied or delayed issuance of tax-exempt status for political reasons. This was only after the agency destroyed evidence under subpoena during the investigation. Last week the DOJ Office of Inspector General issued a report documenting “widespread non-compliance” in a program allowing it to obtain permission to spy on American citizens. The DOJ has also admitted it lacked probable cause to spy on a presidential campaign staffer on whom it obtained a series of warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. An FBI official plead guilty to falsifying documents related to that case.
Based on this long list of recent misconduct, it is conceivable that this may be another inappropriate deployment of the federal government’s police power. The timing of the Attorney General’s letter contributes to a public perception that the federal government is targeting parents who have spoken up against policies being advanced by the Administration’s local union allies. Even worse, using domestic terrorism as the rationale has only heightened the perception that Americans’ civil rights are being threatened for improper purposes. Finally, if it turns out the National School Boards Association letter, which seems to have prompted the DOJ response, was in any way solicited by the White House or Administration officials, individual officials may be facing even more serious charges of misconduct.
“We don’t have to look too far into the past for examples of federal agencies abusing their power to advance White House priorities across administrations, which has contributed to the American public’s trust in its government falling to an all-time low,” stated Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, Michael Chamberlain. “We all should condemn the use of criminal activity, threats and violence to further policy goals. By the same token, the federal government must provide transparency and respect the legitimate rights of American citizens in order to avoid abuses of its immense power when it inserts itself into a highly-charged atmosphere.”