The nation’s largest public employees union has filed a confidential complaint alleging that an appointee of President Donald Trump scoured social media profiles and declined to select peer reviewers who expressed views “contrary” to Trump’s agenda.
According to a Reuters report, the complaint claims that the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Director of the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) Darlene Hutchinson Biehl, an Alabama Republican, is attempting to enforce ideological uniformity through the use of the OVC’s purse strings. Appointed by Trump in 2017, Hutchinson Biehl allegedly carried this out by making sure that certain grants–provided to organizations which offer services to victims of crime–are only going to people and groups aligned with the 45th president’s agenda, according to the complaint.
The disbursement of funds under the grant regime in question occurs by way of a peer reviewer process. These peer reviewers are considered paid legal experts who make non-binding recommendations to the DOJ’s OVC as to which organizations are most deserving of federal dollars.
According to the complaint, Hutchinson Biehl has been rifling through potential peer reviewers’ social media accounts in order to gauge and catalogue their opinions on issues such as the Trump Administration’s controversial immigration policies and whether or not prospective reviewers support the continued criminalization–or decriminalization–of sex work.
Filed on August 16 by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2830, which represents employees inside the Office of Justice Programs, the complaint requested an investigation into Hutchinson Biehl’s handling of her official duties and also reportedly leveled similar claims regarding the grant peer review process within another DOJ office.
The complaint itself has been filed internally and it does not appear that any copies of the filing have been viewed by the news media as of this writing. According to the aforementioned report, however, Marilyn Moses, president of AFSCME Local 2830, described the complaint as well as several individuals who are believed to have been harmed by the official’s alleged political purity tests.
“While the union cannot say with certainty that anyone was not selected as a peer reviewer because their views did not align with President Trump, we have received strong evidence that this may be the case,” Moses told Reuters.
Moses also said the complaint contained internal OVC documents which contained a sort of Rosetta stone to the administration’s alleged perfidy. In the documents is allegedly a list of names belonging to peer reviewers. Next to those experts’ names are a column in which Hutchinson Biehl allegedly noted her perusal of each applicant’s profiles on LinkedIn and Twitter dot com.
The complaint further alleged that DOJ employees believe specific social media posts led the OVC to decide against hiring certain individuals for the open positions.
Law&Crime reached out to OVC and Moses for additional clarification on this story, but neither were available to comment at the time of publication. In comments to Reuters, an anonymous DOJ official pushed back against the complaint.
“[Hutchinson Biehl’s] focus is on ensuring that every peer reviewer has the appropriate expertise to review the grant,” the anonymous official said, while denying that the 20 or so resumes struck by Hutchinson Biehl were removed from the hiring pool for ideological reasons.
The unidentified official went on to say that even if she was acting ideologically against certain would-be peer reviewers, Hutchinson Biehl would be well within her rights because the legislation that funds certain grants for human trafficking victims organizations specifically bans recipients from using that money to lobby for the decriminalization of prostitution. This explanation, however, elides the fact that peer reviewers are not themselves the recipients of any grant funds. The payments for such services are capped at $125 per application reviewed, according to the OVC’s website.
[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]