"I am proud of the OIG's significant contributions to the Department of Justice," Fine wrote. "Through our audits, investigations, inspections and special reviews, we have sought to improve the department's performance; promote economy and efficiency in its programs; and detect and deter waste, fraud and abuse in its operations."
Fine was noted for probing the allegedly political firing of U.S. attorneys during the George W. Bush administration, and issued stern reports blasting the FBI for "serious misuse" of national security letters, one of the Bush administration's most controversial anti-terrorism tools. A 2007 report alleged the bureau might be responsible for up to 3,000 cases of abuse of the letters' expedited subpoena process, through which agents can gain access, without court approval, to bank, phone and credit card records of individuals suspected of ties to terrorists.
In September, Fine announced the IG's office would probe whether the Obama administration's Justice Department displayed bias in prosecuting voting rights violations, a move that grew out of a political controversy over the department's voting section investigation of whether Philadelphia voters in November 2008 were intimidated by members of the New Black Panther Party.
Departing at a time when Congress is considering giving subpoena powers to federal inspectors general to better expose wasteful spending, Fine said he was "fortunate to work in a department that I believe understands and appreciates the OIG's crucial mission of independent oversight."
President Clinton named Fine IG in 2000, after Fine spent five years in the office as a top attorney. Holder issued a statement saying Fine, who will leave at the end of January 2011, "embodied the Justice Department's highest ideals and greatest traditions of service" and that the IG's office has "never been stronger."
Fine's office declined comment on the question of expanding IG subpoena power.
The Justice watchdog's departure "is a big loss to the IG community," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, which favors enhanced IG powers. "In addition to tackling difficult and important issues, Fine has set a model both for independence from the agency, as well as a strong working relationship with Congress."
Brian noted the idea for subpoena power came from the IG community and argued existing procedures rely too heavily on documents rather than testimonial evidence.