• While attorney general cries about budget cuts, he wastes millions
By Keith Johnson
The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) is under fire from legislators on Capitol Hill, who are accusing the mammoth federal entity of wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on duplicative and downright frivolous expenditures.
In recent months, Attorney General Eric Holder has been voicing his frustrations about budget cuts to the DoJ, warning that the sequestration mandates—which took effect on March 1—would have a tremendous impact on America’s national security.
“The Justice Department is going to lose 9% of its budget between now and September 30,” said Holder during a February 27interview with ABC News. “We’re going to lose $1.6B. There are not going to be as many FBI agents, BATFE agents, DEA agents, prosecutors who are going to be able to do their jobs. They’re going to be furloughed. They’re going to spend time out of their offices, not doing their jobs.”
While that remains to be seen, a recent audit of DoJ’s expenditures has revealed a pattern of wasteful and redundant spending that has diminished the department’s ability to do its job effectively.
On April 10, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations held the first in a series of hearings to review what they describe as DoJ’s “obvious waste, fraud and abuse.”
Of particular concern to the subcommittee was DoJ’s decision to purchase the Thompson prison complex in Illinois during a time when the Bureau of Prisons already has four brand-new facilities sitting empty and waiting to be used.
“In addition to the initial $165M, this purchase continues to cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars,” said Committee Chairman Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). “It has been estimated that it will cost $6M a year to secure the empty prison and an additional $70M before it is even operational. It just doesn’t add up.”
Other examples of DoJ waste include hundreds of millions of dollars for conferences, millions more spent on luxury private jets used by political appointees for personal reasons, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) unit that spends $1.5M per year helping Hollywood make TV shows and movies and thousands of dollars on parties, limousine rides for non-departmental use and expensive foods and beverages, including $5.50 canned sodas and $12 cups of coffee.
The subcommittee found that DoJ spent more than $100M on conferences in 2010 alone, $600K of which was paid out to event planners. And according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), both Holder and FBI director Robert Mueller spent more than $11M in taxpayer money on jets for non-mission trips between 2007 and 2011. Holder is said to have flown more than 28% of these flights for personal reasons. Another audit reveals that one recipient of a DoJ grant from the Office of the Inspector General used $10K of the funds for a pizza party and plaques.
Another GAO report from July 2012 revealed that DoJ grants are often granted multiple times for the same or similar purpose. For instance, according to a recent op-ed from Politico, “there are 56 programs that provide funds to victim assistance and research; 41 that provide technology for forensics; 33 that provide funds for juvenile justice; 23 that provide funds for enhanced policing; 21 that provide funds to assist courts; 20 that provide funds for correction and reentry; and 17 that provide funds for community crime and prevention.”
Disturbing revelations about reckless spending within each individual DoJ agency were also addressed during the hearing. For example, in a letter from Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), it was revealed that the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) made $521M in purchases over the course of just 18 months, 20% of which were potentially made without administrative approval. Some of those unauthorized purchases included musical instruments, pizza, lodging and gym club memberships. Furthermore, five of seven training conferences organized by the USMS were canceled at a cost of over $79K and two had fewer attendees than anticipated, resulting in over $10K in fees due to unbooked hotel rooms.
“Waste, duplication and excess have become the norm in Washington,” said subcommittee chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). “It is time to change the status quo, be responsible stewards of the taxpayers’ money and stop working off the same negligent business model that has resulted in mounting debt and trillion-dollar deficits. Using scare tactics like abolishing programs that ensure Americans’ safety is not the answer. Instead, our objective must be to rid the federal government of the inefficiencies plaguing recovery.”
On April 18, Holder went before an unfriendly House appropriations panel hearing to argue in favor of DoJ’s $28B budget proposal. Once again, Holder complained that the sequestration cuts could jeopardize jobs and programs that are essential in keeping Americans safe.
“Despite our best efforts to reduce expenses, I am very concerned about the department’s ability to keep the FBI, the ATF, the DEA, the U.S. Marshals Service and other key staff on the job—both this year and next,” said Holder.
Representative Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee, proved unsympathetic and placed the burden of responsibility right back on Holder.
“Let’s be clear,” Wolf charged, “FBI agents, Bureau of Prisons corrections officers and many other department employees could be furloughed, if not this year, perhaps next, for the lack of funds that were foolishly spent last year on Thomson [prison in Illinois]. To have allowed this to happen is, in my opinion, bad judgment and poor leadership.”
Keith Johnson in an investigative journalist and host of the Revolt of the Plebs radio program.