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Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

I rise today to offer an amendment that would prevent the closing of four field offices of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division. These offices are located in Atlanta, Dallas, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. The Justice Department announced plans to close these offices with the stated goal of saving $8 million. These closures will not save a dime. In fact, these closures would actually end up costing the government money in lost criminal fines and restitution.

Closing the Atlanta office does not even reduce Federal overhead. The Atlanta field office is located in a Federal courthouse building which will continue to operate. Not only will the antitrust division likely lose those talented lawyers who do not choose to relocate to one of the remaining offices, but it will also move people to some of the most high-cost locations in the country.

The southern region is home to the corporate headquarters of over 100 of the Fortune 500 companies. The Atlanta office prosecutes individuals and companies who engage in bid-rigging, price-fixing, and illegal kickback schemes. Shutting down the Atlanta and Dallas sites leaves the entire southern region of our Nation without any local presence to prosecute and deter antitrust violations and white collar criminal activity.

We cannot and should not underestimate the deterrent effect that the presence of regional law enforcement officers has on white collar crime. We cannot afford to leave the Southeast and Southwest without vital law enforcement officials who are tasked with reducing white collar crime.

I ask all of my colleagues to vote for this amendment to prevent the closure of these critical law enforcement offices until a more thorough review of the consequences can be undertaken. This is not a done deal. Congress should and must act.

My amendment won't cost a cent, but it would bring in more than a few dollars. Over the past 11 years, the Atlanta field office alone brought in over $265 million in fines and restitution. Let me be clear that is a 600 percent rate of return on this investment. What better proof do you need?

Mr. Chairman, I ask each and every one of my colleagues again to support the Lewis-Johnson amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.

Ms. KAPTUR. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentlewoman from Ohio is recognized for 5 minutes.

Ms. KAPTUR. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank Congressman Lewis for offering this amendment to the Commerce-Justice-Science fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill. The amendment is designed to prevent the U.S. Department of Justice from closing and reducing its antitrust division field offices from seven to only three in a country of over 300 million people in 50 States.

The Department of Justice literally and regrettably wants to, or is proposing to, close four of its antitrust field offices in response to budgetary pressures. This is partly because the Republican budget fails to provide the administration with the resources it has requested to carry out its basic mission.

Under Republican leadership, the legal activities account, which funds the antitrust division, was 2.2 percent less than the administration requested for the fiscal year 2012, and that resulted in a 5.2 percent cut compared to fiscal year 2011. When we cut 5.2 percent out of a particular account that primarily funds salaries and expenses, there are consequences.

However, congressional Republicans are not totally to blame. The President's budget says that the antitrust division is expecting an increase in caseloads and requested additional funding to administer the increase in caseload. Yet the administration wants to close over half the division's offices. What sense does this even make?

Also, the antitrust division is a key participant on the President's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. How can the division be a helpful participant when it is reducing its footprint across our country?

In one of America's poorest cities with lingering high unemployment--Cleveland, Ohio--that Department of Justice antitrust field office is scheduled to be closed. I'm concerned about the impact it will have, first of all, on the administration of justice in the field of antitrust, but also on the employees, businesses, and consumers that serve us in the greater Ohio area.

I'm very concerned for the hardworking employees in the Cleveland field office, one of the most efficient
antitrust divisions in the country because its employees are so talented. Cleveland is a community that still endures high unemployment due to the economic crisis and its lingering effects. Why would we want to do this now?
From my perspective, the amount of money the Department of Justice expects to save will not actually materialize because costs will increase elsewhere as a result of a reduced footprint across the country.

The reality is we should be furthering our support for the antitrust division, not closing offices or cutting funds. As currently structured, the antitrust division is one of the most efficient Agencies within the Federal Government. Its base budget was $159 million. Yet from 2009 to 2011 the division's efforts resulted in $2 billion in criminal fines and antitrust violations. That's a seven-to-one return on investment.

In addition, over the last two fiscal years, the antitrust division has been estimated to have saved consumers over $650 million as a result of its criminal enforcement efforts. Furthermore, the antitrust division successfully resolved 97 percent of its criminal cases in fiscal year 2011.

Without question, the antitrust division more than pays for itself seven times over. It has an outstanding track record. We should leave its current structure alone. In fact, we should seek to strengthen it and get greater return to the taxpayer for every dollar invested. No matter what happens here today or tomorrow, I'll continue to work with the other body to protect the antitrust division's presence across this country and work to ensure that the employees in communities like Cleveland and the other communities are treated fairly, because in the final analysis, the American people need a robust antitrust division at the Department of Justice.

Mr. Chairman, I support the Lewis amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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It is hard and difficult and almost unbelievable that any Member, especially a Member from the State of Georgia, would come and offer such an amendment.

There is a long history in our country, especially in the 11 States that are old Confederacy--from Virginia to Texas--of discrimination based on race, on color. Maybe some of us need to study a little contemporary history dealing with the question of voting rights.

Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it was almost impossible for many people in the State of Georgia, in Alabama, in Virginia, and in Texas to register to vote, to participate in the democratic process. The State of Mississippi, for example, had a black voting age population of more than 450,000 and only about 16,000 were registered to vote. In one county in Alabama, the county was more than 80 percent and there was not a single registered African American voter. People had to pass a so-called ``literacy test''; interpreting sections of the Constitution. One man was asked to count the number of bubbles on a bar of soup and another man was asked to count the number of jelly beans in a jar.

It's shameful that you would come here tonight and say to the Department of Justice that you must not use one penny, one cent, one dime, one dollar to carry out the mandate of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. We should open up the political process and let all of our citizens come in and participate. People died for the right to vote--friends of mine, colleagues of mine--to speak out against this amendment. It doesn't have a place.

I agree with the chairman.

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