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Senator Grassley seeks action on FinCEN hiring probe

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) talks to reporters on his opposition to current immigration reform legislation on Capitol Hill in Washington J
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) talks to reporters on his opposition to current immigration reform legislation on Capitol Hill in Washington J

By Brett Wolf and Emily Flitter

ST LOUIS/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Senator Chuck Grassley is taking steps to make sure federal authorities are probing hiring practices of the Treasury Department's anti-money laundering arm, FinCEN, after the division was caught illegally screening job candidates.

Grassley, an Iowa Republican and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he planned to reach out to the Office of the Inspector General, which oversees Treasury's operations, to see if it will proceed with an investigation recommended by an independent agency, the Office of Personnel Management.

Grassley said in a statement emailed to Reuters late on Monday he is also reaching out to another agency that enforces federal labor laws to see if it plans to investigate the matter, which was reported by Reuters on Friday.

During a routine audit earlier this year, OPM discovered that the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network had been screening candidates for jobs in its enforcement division in a quest to hire only lawyers for the positions, according to several sources familiar with the matter. Federal hiring rules prohibit screening prospective hires for skills not required by the job's official description.

"It's embarrassing for an agency that's supposed to enforce federal law to be caught in violation itself," Grassley said in the statement.

"The investigations should cover whether Treasury officials, in fact, knew about FinCEN's practices and didn't do anything, and if so, why not," he added.

Two sources told Reuters some senior Treasury officials knew about FinCEN's screening process, in which human resources personnel asked candidates whether they had "complex litigation experience," while the recruiting effort was underway.

OPM recommended an investigation by the Treasury IG and the Office of Special Counsel. Grassley will first ask Treasury Inspector General Eric Thorson informally about his plans for the investigation, but may follow up with a formal letter. Grassley also plans to contact the OSC to find out whether the body will proceed with the investigation OPM recommended.

Grassley has also asked OPM for a copy of its report on FinCEN's hiring practices.

Richard Delmar, a spokesman for Thorson, said his office had referred the matter to the OSC, a move he said was the standard procedure for handling OPM's request. The OSC's job is to investigate violations of federal labor laws, such as discrimination and retaliation against whistleblowers.

A spokesman for the OSC said the agency received the Treasury IG's referral and has opened a case. An OPM spokesman said the agency would have no comment on any specific requests from members of Congress and was referring all media inquiries on FinCEN to the Treasury Department. A spokeswoman for the Treasury declined to comment.

In Congress, the House Financial Services Committee oversees FinCEN. A spokesman for the committee did not respond to an inquiry by Reuters.

(Reporting by Brett Wolf in St Louis and Emily Flitter in New York; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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