Advocating for the hire of relatives, a form of nepotism, has become “open and widely accepted” at the Energy Department, according to a federal watchdog report.

Brennan Linsley/AP - Wind turbines run by the Energy Department. Brennan Linsley/AP – Wind turbines run by the Energy Department.

The Energy Department’s inspector general made that determination in a report released last week about a senior manager who pushed for three of his college-age children to be hired for department internships last year.

The unnamed official, who served in a top management role with the agency’s energy efficiency and renewable energy division, contacted a number of officials to inquire about opportunities for his kids, according to the inspector general.

Investigators found that one department reversed its previously announced decision to not hire interns for 2012, after the senior official contacted division leaders.

All of the official’s children were hired by the agency during that year, according to the report. Two of the officials who made those hires told investigators they did not feel pressured by the parent, the report said.

Federal law prohibits  public officials from appointing, employing or even advocating for their children or relatives to work within their agencies, but the issue of nepotism appears to be widespread within the Energy Department. Investigators found that DOE officials were largely unaware of the rules against such actions.

“Despite the department’s ethics program and information regarding prohibited personnel practices, advocating for the selection of relatives appears to have become an open and widely accepted departmental practice,” the report said.

The report noted that the Pathways Program, established by the Office of Personnel Management at the urging of President Obama, would help address the issue of nepotism, since it requires all applicants to apply to open job announcements in order to be considered for hiring.

The Energy Department has promised to determine what circumstances led to the hiring of officials’ relatives and take steps to ensure such actions will not happen again, according to the report.

“The Energy Department is committed to fair, open and transparent hiring processes that ensure every candidate is evaluated equally,” said agency spokesman Bill Gibbons. “As recommended by the inspector general, the offices of the general counsel and the chief human capital officer are reviewing the information in the report as well as the circumstances surrounding these intern hires. The department will take appropriate action based on those findings.”

The agency has broadcast a message to all employees explaining the rules for preventing nepotism and promised to place additional emphasis on such matters during its annual ethics training, the report said.

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