Justice Wins Flexibility to Avert Furloughs

Attorney General Eric Holder Attorney General Eric Holder Evan Vucci/AP

Update: Attorney General Eric Holder has announced there will be no Justice Department sequestration furloughs in 2013. See our story here

Congressional appropriators have agreed to allow the Justice Department to shift money within its budget to avoid employee furloughs this fiscal year.

The department last week asked lawmakers for the authority to transfer or “reprogram” funds from various budget accounts to cover shortfalls in salaries for thousands of employees because of sequestration. Rep. Frank Wolf, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies approved the proposed reprogramming authority in an April 24 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.

“The committee understands that these actions, taken together, will enable the department to avoid any furloughs for the remainder of fiscal year 2013, within all its components,” the Virginia Republican wrote.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also has approved the department’s request, a Senate aide confirmed. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who leads the full Appropriations panel, also chairs the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee.

Lawmakers in March agreed to allow Justice to shift money within the Bureau of Prisons to avoid furloughing thousands of correctional workers. Also last month, Holder announced that he would postpone until mid-April a decision on furloughs at his department.

Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The green light from appropriators on shifting funds, however, should enable the department to avoid furloughs. The department in February sent letters to assistant U.S. attorneys notifying them of proposed 14-day furloughs during the rest of the fiscal year.

Justice will be able to use $251.5 million in deobligated and expired prior year funds for salaries and expenses at the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives under the request. The department also will shift money from its Election Monitoring Program account to pay employees in the Civil Rights Division, and reprogram funds from its Legal Education coffers to cover salaries within the U.S. Attorneys unit. In addition, the department will be able to move appropriations within its federal prisoner detention account to salaries and expenses at the U.S. Marshals Service; the Executive Office for Immigration Review; U.S. Parole Commission; U.S. Trustees Program, and the Office of Inspector General.

Wolf pointed out in his letter to Holder that the reprogramming “will use resources intended for a variety of law enforcement activities and priorities, but now must be used to prevent furloughing critical operational personnel.” The Republican also included a handwritten note at the bottom of the letter, criticizing the Obama administration’s decision to buy Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois last year for $165 million from the state.

“You really created a mess with your bailing out the state of Ill [sic] with the Thomson prison purchase,” Wolf scribbled. “This will continue to create problems for the Justice Dept., especially the employees.”

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