As the March 1 sequestration deadline approached, Attorney General Eric Holder dramatically warned that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would be forced to make cuts that threaten the safety of all Americans. Holder claimed that cuts to agencies within the Justice Department would diminish the department's ability to investigate and prosecute crimes.
However, a line-by-line look at spending patterns at DOJ reveals many areas of wasteful spending. If the Administration would set aside the theatrics and the scare-tactic narrative, government officials could use this opportunity to root out waste and redundancy that divert resources from the department's work.
The House Judiciary Committee, which I Chair, has examined recent spending trends at DOJ and found many examples of wasteful and duplicative spending, all of which are paid for by taxpayers. In 2010 alone, the department spent nearly $100 million on conferences. This includes $600,000 in event planner costs for just five conferences. According to the Government Accountability Office, both the attorney general and FBI director spent more than $11 million on jets for nonmission trips from 2007 through 2011. The attorney general took more than 28 percent of these flights for personal reasons. An audit released this month of DOJ grants by the Office of the Inspector General shows that one recipient used $10,000 of its grant funding for a pizza party and plaques.
One of the most egregious examples of waste is DOJ's purchase of a 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 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. It just doesn't add up.
Last week, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations held a hearing to question Administration officials and further review these examples of waste. This hearing was just the starting point. The House Judiciary Committee will continue to look for ways to reduce inefficient spending at DOJ. All of our federal agencies, including the Justice Department, must look for ways to tighten their belts.
The Congress has a responsibility to the American people and future generations to change the way hard-earned taxpayer dollars are spent. Another empty prison is not a good use. In order to make the federal government more efficient and achieve much-needed savings, Congress must consolidate duplicative programs and eliminate those that do not work. Spending is the problem, and it's essential that our nation get its fiscal house in order.