WASHINGTON -- The Capitol Police are asking 15 recruits to resign by Friday - a move that will cost the department millions of dollars in lost training expenses and reveals a high-level case of mismanagement.
The recruits failed to pass some aspect of their background, psychological or physical tests, according to several sources.
But those tests are supposed to be completed before an applicant is ever hired. The recruits began training about two months ago.
Now the 15 recruits - some of whom relocated for the job - are left with no jobs and potential blemishes on their records. And their training has already cost the department at least $6 million, according to one officer familiar with the incident.
"I think it's terrible," said Matt Tighe, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee. "If these officers weren't supposed to be hired, that should have been found out in the initial background check. Now they have to say in their employment record 'resigned in lieu of termination.'"
The recruits were in training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia when officials told them they had to report to Washington, D.C., by Monday morning. On Monday, they met with officials and were told that they had to resign.
Several knowledgeable sources said former Human Resources Director Jennifer McCarthy recommended the officers for positions without doing sufficient background and psychological tests. But others said that the tests were done; the officers, they said, were hired despite known shortcomings.
McCarthy was removed from her post at the end of May after officials learned of the mishap, according to several sources. An unusually high number of withdrawals from training alerted officials to a potential problem.
Police Chief Phillip Morse conducted an investigation into the hiring procedures employed for two classes of recruits, after discovering that the process did not meet department standards, according to Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer.
Morse and the Capitol Police Board then made the joint decision to remove the 15 recruits, he said. They were given two choices: Resign by Friday or be fired.
The recruits can appeal the decision, but as probationary employees, their options are limited.
"There's been some mistakes here and we're trying to do our best to fix them," said Gainer, who sits on the police board.
But he acknowledged that the department's decision creates a hardship for the recruits, some of whom "made a life-changing choice" when they accepted a position.
"There's little I could say to assuage what we've done to them and their families. It's pitiful that we found ourselves in this situation," he said. "We have to balance the responsibilities we have in the department against the personal difficulties of them and their families."
Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider wouldn't comment on the case. The department doesn't discuss personnel matters, she said.
But the repercussions of the mistake go far beyond the individuals involved. The hiring process takes six months to a year, and once hired, officers must go through about 20 weeks of expensive training.
Of the 15 recruits asked to leave, seven already had been through eight weeks of training, according to several sources. Eight had gone through six weeks. The first class had about 40 recruits; the second had about 20.
McCarthy was the head of Human Resources for about a year, meaning she oversaw the hiring of many more officers.
"If they're saying these things slipped through, who else has slipped through?" Tighe said. "Who's to say we don't have someone connected to al-Qaida?"
But the department is staying silent on which standards the officers failed to meet. Reasons for disqualification include recent drug use, felony convictions, poor work history and even irresponsible driving. And some of those standards are flexible, with officials considering each case separately.
Whatever the reason, the removal of the recruits means the department will have fewer officers during one of its busiest periods. Not only are the national conventions approaching in August - for which some of the force will be sent across the country - but the Capitol Visitor Center is also nearing completion and will require more officers.
"The department is going to meet its commitment," Gainer said. But he added that it could mean more overtime. "It's relatively significant, but it's not fatal."
Members of Congress already are looking into the issue.
In recent years, Members and auditors have criticized the department for fiscal and administrative mismanagement. A Government Accountability Office report found that the HR department lacked a cohesive plan for training and hiring.
Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), who heads the House Administration Subcommittee on Capitol Security, said in a statement that he was "apprised of the situation" but couldn't comment because it was a personnel matter.
Subcommittee ranking member Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) said he hoped to learn more about the situation in coming days. But he said he has been assured that it was an isolated incident.
"I am concerned that this happened and I am concerned that this would happen at any time and particularly now," he said. "I want to make sure it's addressed and addressed in its entirety. We can't afford to have screw-ups in respect to recruitment."