Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) prepared the following opening statement for today’s hearing on “Luxury Jets and Empty Prisons: Wasteful and Duplicative Spending at the Department of Justice”:

Like all American families, the federal government has been forced to make cuts.  Under sequestration, the Justice Department must cut approximately $1.6 billion from its annual budget of over $27 billion per year.  

The Department had over a year to prepare, but rather than doing the difficult work of identifying and eliminating waste and duplication, the Attorney General has told Congress that the only way it can meet its obligation is to furlough tens of thousands of employees.  

The furloughs undermine the Department’s ability to conduct its core mission and they are happening in the midst of obvious waste, fraud, and abuse at the Department.

For example:

• One law enforcement agency spent $116,000 over an 18-month period to buy high-end sunglasses.
• Hundreds of Washington bureaucrats were given government cars to commute to work.
• The Department spent $600,000 on event planners for just 5 conferences.
• The Department has almost $100 million in appropriated funds sitting unused for the Bulletproof Vest Partnership program.
• The Department has 56 separate grant programs for victims’ assistance, 41 programs for forensics, and 33 programs for juvenile justice.
• The Department spent $165 million on a prison in Illinois that now sits empty, along with 4 other empty prisons awaiting activation.
The Attorney General blames sequestration for why five federal prison facilities—including the infamous Thomson prison—sit empty and therefore useless.  Isn’t the better question, why does the Department own five prisons it can’t afford to operate?  

The Department spent $165 million to purchase the Thomson prison last year while sequestration was already looming.   This money could have been used to prevent furloughing the guards the Department has at its operating prisons.  Luckily, it appears the Department has now found the $150 million needed to keep the guards in the prisons and the prisoners off the streets.

Law enforcement agencies also appear to be staffing their Washington, DC headquarters by reassigning agents from other parts of the country on “temporary duty.”  The Department does this by using an overly generous definition of “temporary”—extending these assignments up to 18 months.  

In addition to their full salaries, these employees receive enormous additional financial benefits from taxpayers—including $224 a day for housing costs and $71 a day for food.  This adds up to at least $8,600 per month per employee above and beyond their salaries.  An employee taking advantage of an 18-month long “temporary” assignment can receive a bonus of $154,800 in food and housing subsidies.  

I am dismayed that the Department would furlough thousands of employees – including federal agents in the field – instead of cutting costs by limiting or eliminating temporary duty assignments to headquarters.  I intend to learn more about this practice from the Department.

The Justice Department fulfills a critical mission—enforcing federal law, defending the interests of the United States, ensuring public safety against threats foreign and domestic, and ensuring the fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.  And yet, our review of the Justice Department’s recent spending uncovered many examples, such as the ones I just mentioned, where the Department is not being a good steward of taxpayer money.

Government waste, duplicative spending, and inefficient operations are always causes for concern.  This is more true than ever in light of our current economic environment, in which the country faces a national debt of $16 trillion and growing.  We must identify and reduce unnecessary spending in the Justice Department so it can focus on its critical law enforcement and national security functions.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about how the Department can achieve greater cost savings in a responsible way.