BJS Chief Firing Hurt Model Agency’s Morale: Ex-Director


The Bush administration maligned U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics director Lawrence Greenfeld “and his agency in a way that was deeply unjust, that undermined morale at a model federal agency, and that jeopardized its good work and its reputation within the criminal justice community.” So says former BJS acting director Joseph Bessette in The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine. Greenfeld was told last summer that he would be removed from his job after an internal dispute over a press release concerning a BJS report on racial profiling.

Taking a close look at the episode, Bessette concludes that the the administration did not try to suppress or manipulate data, “though it did seek to deny publicity to uncomfortable facts.” The “ham-handedness” of the Greenfeld firing “backfired by attracting infinitely more attention to the sensitive racial profiling data than would otherwise have been the case,” Bessette says, adding that Greenfeld was “doing his job in a responsible and, indeed, exemplary way.” Bessette takes issue with the idea that the case represents a fight beween a conservative administration and a liberal bureaucracy. “It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of BJS data, especially in documenting the leniency of the American criminal justice system and thus pointing the way to crime reduction through tougher punishment,” says Bessette, who now teaches at Claremont McKenna College.


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