Report: Justice collects more fines but funding stays flat

Inspector general has recovered $4.7 million in fines and restitutions since October, despite a relatively level budget and staff size.

A new semiannual report sent to Congress by the Justice Department shows sizable growth in the amount of money recovered through inspector general investigations during a six-month period ending March 31, despite the fact that officials completed more cases and made more arrests in the previous reporting period, which ended Sept. 30.

According to the report, released Monday, Justice's IG collected $4.7 million in fines and restitutions since October, up from about $240,000 in the previous period. Investigators completed 161 probes resulting in 56 arrests, 69 convictions, and 108 administrative actions, compared to 197 investigations, 69 arrests, and 142 administrative actions in the prior reporting cycle. Despite a relatively flat budget and staff size, the IG report notes, staffers handle a variety of investigations, including allegations that the Bureau of Prisons correctional officers smuggled contraband into prisons and that department employees stole money and property. Probes also looked into alleged civil rights violations; bribery and grant fraud; and violations of other criminal laws and administrative procedures.

The release of the paper comes after the Senate's unanimous April passage of legislation, sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, aimed at improving the role of inspectors general as independent agency watchdogs. A Lieberman aide said Tuesday that talks are under way to conference the bill with a similar measure sponsored by Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., which passed the House last fall by a large margin despite a White House veto threat.

"We expect to have something for both houses to vote on this session, and we're counting on another round of overwhelming bipartisan support," said Cooper spokesman John Spragens. McCaskill spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh said her boss was "hopeful that differences between the House and Senate can be resolved in the coming weeks."

Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine has argued that IGs have been underfunded even though they get much more in civil and criminal recoveries than they cost. Fine's team of about 400 oversees a department that has grown by 30 percent over 15 years. His office had roughly the same number of staff in 1992 as it does today. Fine noted that while the office's size has not grown, Congress has asked for more reviews without offering enough resources. The report shares Fine's support of a provision in the pending Senate legislation that would remove a longstanding statute barring his office from examining allegations against department attorneys, including claims made against the attorney general.

All other federal IGs are authorized to examine misconduct throughout their entire agencies, but at Justice, the Office of Professional Responsibility, which reports directly to the attorney general, has that authority. Fine believes the situation creates conflicts of interest and contravenes the rationale for having inspectors general.