WASHINGTON — Every single Justice Department inspector general who has led the office since it was created a quarter century ago agreed Tuesday that misconduct allegations against federal prosecutors should be handled by the department’s top watchdog and not by a separate internal unit that operates under the attorney general.
Unlike those in other major federal agencies, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General isn’t allowed to investigate alleged misconduct by a massive chunk of the department’s employees. Instead, inquiries into the conduct of Justice Department lawyers in Washington and assistant U.S. attorneys across the country are handled by the Office of Professional Responsibility, an entity that has long been criticized for its lack of transparency.
Federal judges have railed against OPR, which one former federal prosecutor called a “roach motel” because cases “check in, but they don’t check out.” Even the man who helped create the office and ran it for 22 years said before his death in 2007 that he believed it should be abolished and its duties handed over to OIG.
An independent investigation by the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight found 650 infractions by Justice Department attorneys — more than 400 of them categorized as reckless or intentional — from fiscal years 2002 through 2013. The department itself does not disclose the names of lawyers investigated or the details of the cases.
“The Department of Justice OIG should be like every other OIG that has full jurisdiction throughout their agency,” said Glenn Fine, who served as the Justice Department’s inspector general from 2000 until 2011, at an event marking the 25th anniversary of the office on Tuesday. “We have the capacity to perform the work and the ability to learn it.”
Former Inspector General Michael Bromwich, who served from 1994 until 1999, noted that he was recruited to the position on the premise that OPR’s functions would be folded into the Inspector General’s office, but that the plan was scrapped after opposition from Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.