In a series of stories last week, the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Times-Democrat reported that the Justice Department is investigating charges of mismanagement, sexism, and absentee leadership at the National Drug Intelligence Center (http://www.usdoj.gov/ndic/). The center, located in Johnstown, employs more than 400 people to track drug trends, issue intelligence reports ("threat assessments"), and assist other government agencies in counterdrug, and increasingly, counterterror intelligence.
Alerted by repeated employee complaints, the Justice Department last week sent a team of investigators to Johnstown to begin a review of NDIC's management and listen to employee concerns, the newspaper said. Neither the Justice Department nor NDIC is talking much about the specifics of the complaints, but a Justice Department memo and a letter from employees obtained by the Times-Democrat sheds some light on problems with NDIC.
"Serious management and personnel issues have been reported by employees and supervisors within the National Drug Intelligence Center," Paul Corts, assistant attorney general for administration, wrote in the memo addressed to NDIC staff. After the allegations were reviewed at "numerous levels" within the Justice Department, wrote Corts. "A decision has been made to look more closely at the NDIC organization."
An anonymous statement released by employees of NDIC accused not only Justice Department officials but Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha (D), who represents Johnstown and was instrumental in getting the center located there in the early 1990s, of ignoring repeated complaints about a "hostile" environment in the agency. "Employees have been in fear of retribution for speaking out," they said in the statement. "For over two years, employees have communicated their concerns to Congressman Murtha's office."
The anonymous employees also said that NDIC administrators, led by Director Michael T. Horn, have exaggerated the agency's achievements, especially in counter-terrorism, an effort that has been praised by Attorney General John Ashcroft. "NDIC management continues to deceive (the public), particularly regarding NDIC support for counterterrorism efforts," the staff statement said.
They also complained about hiring practices and administrators' treatment of women. "Female employees who do not enjoy 'special' relationships with senior managers are frequently referred to in hostile, derogatory terms," the statement said.
And then there is Horn's extensive travel, often accompanied by his assistant, Mary Lou Rodgers. Although NDIC's mandate is domestic anti-drug intelligence, the peripatetic pair have racked up more than $164,000 in travel expenses traveling to Barbados, Jamaica, London, Paris, Romania and Hong Kong, among other destinations. That, too, has not gone over well with some employees. "It's waste and abuse," said an employee familiar with the situation, who spoke to the Tribune-Democrat on condition of anonymity. "These trips are a laughingstock, not only here but in the law-enforcement community."
"Our director, Michael T. Horn, has become an absentee director," wrote employees in their letter.
The House Intelligence Committee signs off on the center's annual budget, which reached $44.3 million this fiscal year. Committee staffers expressed an interest in the investigation when contacted by the Tribune-Democrat. "The committee is very interested in any result of any inquiry that the Justice Department may be conducting," spokesman Patrick Murray said. "If there is wrongdoing uncovered, we need to get to the bottom of it."