A federal watchdog is investigating whether the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration under Anne Milgram improperly awarded millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to hire her past associates, people familiar with the probe told The Associated Press. Among the spending under scrutiny by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General is $4.7 million for “strategic planning and communication” and other contracts that were used to hire people Milgram knew from her days as New Jersey’s attorney general and as a New York University law professor – at costs far exceeding pay for government officials. At least a dozen people have been hired under such contracts, including some in Milgram’s inner circle handling intelligence, data analytics, community outreach and public relations — work often requiring security clearances and traditionally done by DEA’s 9,000-person workforce.
Also under scrutiny is $1.4 million to a Washington, D.C., law firm for a review of the DEA’s scandal-plagued foreign operations that was widely criticized for giving short shrift to agent misconduct and how to prevent it. That review was co-authored by Boyd Johnson, former right-hand man to one of Milgram’s closest friends, Preet Bharara, when he was U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. Bharara himself landed at the firm, WilmerHale, even as the review was being conducted. “Some of these deals look very swampy,” said Scott Amey of the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight, noting that federal contracting is not intended to bypass the government hiring process and should be conducted with no preferential treatment and avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Contractors are also prohibited from performing “inherently governmental functions” such as directing federal employees.