On January 11, 2012, NAFUSA’s six-member Liaison Committee met with Attorney General Eric Holder in his conference room at Main Justice. It was the most recent of several periodic meetings with the General, which began in 2010. Following the meeting with the AG, the committee also met with the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC). The Liaison Committee is chaired by NAFUSA President Rick Deane and is composed of President Elect Jay Stephens, Secretary Matt Orwig , board member Doug Jones and Executive Director Rich Rossman. Committee member Wayne Budd was unable to attend, and board member Joe Whitley attended in his absence.
President Deane began the meeting by proposing that NAFUSA sponsor a lecture series intended to foster and promote ethics and professionalism within the Department, with a particular focus (though not exclusively), on United States Attorneys. The goal would be to offer something inspiring and perhaps aspirational, rather than a discussion of ethics rules. The committee mentioned the presentation that William Ruckelshaus, the former Deputy Attorney General in the Nixon Administration, gave to NAFUSA at its annual conference in Seattle in 2009 as an example of such a lecture. The General was very open to this suggestion and the committee later discussed it with the AGAC, whose members were very receptive. We agreed to attempt to put something together for the upcoming U.S. Attorney conference to be held in March.
We had an extensive discussion with the AG about the budgetary impact on Department resources. The General said Justice has done better than some departments of government, but it has been a tough budgetary cycle. He feels he has the capacity to handle the problems, but for how long. He mentioned that the Bush Administration had left a good structure in place in the national security area and that there is much more cooperation between agencies than was the case in the past.
Terrorism, of course, is the major focus. There are more terrorism cases around the country, not just in New York and Virginia. It will have to be decided whether the FBI will primarily be a national security agency. The state and local law enforcement agencies are also feeling the pinch and looking to help from federal prosecutions. It is a challenge to find the agencies to do the investigations. There is a need for seasoned, experienced agents, not just new hires. The threat of terrorism has not diminished, but is changing. The “lone wolf” continues to be a real concern.
A hiring freeze has been in effect for a year. There are hundreds and hundreds of applicants, but no ability to hire. The General hopes that will change soon. He argues to OMB that the Department can make money for the government if it has the resources. Through attrition the U.S. Attorney offices lose about 700 a year in AUSAs and support staff. There have been some volunteers who work without pay. Several field antitrust offices are closing and the work being centralized in Washington. The Bureau of Prison population is growing and taking budget from other areas. It will be worth looking at studies to seek methods to ease reentry in hopes to reduce prison population. Health care fraud is a priority. The civil rights effort has been beefed up.
The committee also proposed a NAFUSA “Day at Justice” as part of our national conference to be held in 2013 in Washington. NAFUSA would seek to host a half day at the Great Hall and ask major leaders at Justice to speak to us on the priorities and state of the Department. The General was very supportive.
The committee then had an hour meeting with the AGAC. President Rick Deane explained the purpose of NAFUSA and our dedication to the Department and the institution of U.S. Attorney. He explained that we are nonpartisan in our nature and not involved in partisan debates. He told them we look forward to their future membership in NAFUSA, whenever their terms might end. President Elect Jay Stephens discussed NAFUSA’s Bradford Award and told the AGAC that the process will begin soon to select a winner for 2012. He encouraged the AGAC members to make nominations. As mentioned above, the AGAC was very open to our suggestion of a planned lecture series.
AGAC chair Paul Fishman said that due to Eric Holder “being one of us as a former U.S. Attorney and willing to listen to the AGAC”, the committee has more influence than in the past. He said each office could double in size and not run out of work to do. He said the total budget for U.S. Attorneys is $1.9 billion and they took in $6.5 billion in forfeitures, fines and the like. He made the point that the offices are cash positive.
The Liaison Committee felt it had a very productive day in Washington and is hopeful that these sessions will become institutionalized and remain in place through future administrations.
The photo above is from the July 20, 2011, meeting with the Attorney General. Shown from the left, Doug Jones, President Rick Deane, Secretary Matt Orwig, Attorney General Eric Holder, Immediate Past President Bill Lutz, Executive Director Rich Rossman and Wayne Budd. Current Liaison Committee member and President Elect Jay Stephens and alternate Joe Whitley are not shown.