By Representative Bob Goodlatte
As the March 1 sequestration deadline approached, Attorney General Eric Holder dramatically warned that the Justice Department would be forced to make cuts that threaten the safety of all Americans. Holder claimed that cuts to the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Marshals Service, and U.S. Attorneys Office would diminish the department's ability to investigate and prosecute crimes. He also warned that budget reductions at the Bureau of Prisons could lead to lockdowns and violence.
However, a line-by-line look at spending patterns at the DOJ reveals many areas of wasteful spending, suggesting that these ominous threats are part of a scare-tactic narrative to promote the Obama administration's political agenda. If the administration would set aside the theatrics, government officials could use this opportunity to root out waste and redundancy that divert resources from the department's critical missions.
The House Judiciary Committee has examined recent spending trends at the DOJ and has found several examples of wasteful and duplicative spending, all of which are paid for by taxpayers. Here are just a few examples.
Instead of prison breaks, prisons break budget: Despite the clear disapproval from Congress last year, the DOJ purchased an unused prison in Illinois. The department spent $165 million to purchase this prison, even though the Bureau of Prisons already had four brand-new federal prisons sitting empty and waiting to be put to use. In addition to the initial $165 million, this unauthorized purchase continues to cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. It has been estimated that it will cost $6 million a year to secure the empty prison and an additional $70 million before it is even operational.
Looking good for Hollywood: Tax dollars are also used at the department to help the entertainment industry. The FBI has its own Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit, which is dedicated to helping Hollywood make movies and TV shows, including "The Kingdom," "Fast and Furious 4," "CSI," "Numb3rs" and "Without a Trace." This perk for Hollywood comes with an annual price tag of $1.5 million to the American taxpayer.
Meet and greets: In addition, the DOJ staff hosted numerous conferences around the country. In 2010 alone, the department spent nearly $100 million on conferences, which is twice what was spent two years earlier. This includes more than $600,000 in event-planner costs for five conferences, even though the need for this was not shown.
The food at these conferences was also exorbitant. For example, coffee and tea cost from 62 cents to $1.03 an ounce. At the $1.03-per-ounce price, a 12-ounce cup of coffee would have cost $12.36!
Come fly with me: Political appointees at the DOJ also use millions of taxpayer dollars for personal travel. According to the Government Accountability Office, both the attorney general and FBI director spent more than $11 million on luxury private jets for nonmission trips from 2007 through 2011. The attorney general took more than 28 percent of these flights for personal reasons.
Pizza time: DOJ grants to state and local entities have also proved to be wasteful. Just this month, the Office of the Inspector General released an audit of grants given to Hartford, Conn. The Hartford Police Department used $10,000 of its grant funding for a pizza party and plaques. The Judiciary Committee has asked the DOJ to explain how pizza could cost $10,000, but this request has gone unanswered.
Duplicative and overlapping programs: A GAO report from July 2012 found that there is a huge amount of duplication and overlap in grants awarded by DOJ. For example, 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 re-entry; and 17 that provide funds for community crime and prevention.
These are just some of the many examples of inefficient and redundant spending at the DOJ. With the release of the White House fiscal year 2014 budget on Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will continue to look for ways to reduce wasteful spending in the DOJ.
While the attorney general and other administration officials play up the effects of the automatic spending cuts on the government's core duties, the real story is that our government throws away taxpayer dollars on nonessential items every day. With our national debt more than $16 trillion, we simply cannot afford to drink $12 coffees and help Hollywood make movies. Spending is the problem, and it's essential that our nation get its fiscal house in order.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.