Mr. LEWIS of Georgia. I rise today to offer an amendment that would prevent the closing of four field offices of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division. These offices are located in Atlanta, Dallas, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. The Justice Department announced plans to close these offices with the stated goal of saving $8 million. These closures will not save a dime. In fact, these closures would actually end up costing the government money in lost criminal fines and restitution.
Closing the Atlanta office does not even reduce Federal overhead. The Atlanta field office is located in a Federal courthouse building which will continue to operate. Not only will the antitrust division likely lose those talented lawyers who do not choose to relocate to one of the remaining offices, but it will also move people to some of the most high-cost locations in the country.
The southern region is home to the corporate headquarters of over 100 of the Fortune 500 companies. The Atlanta office prosecutes individuals and companies who engage in bid-rigging, price-fixing, and illegal kickback schemes. Shutting down the Atlanta and Dallas sites leaves the entire southern region of our Nation without any local presence to prosecute and deter antitrust violations and white collar criminal activity.
We cannot and should not underestimate the deterrent effect that the presence of regional law enforcement officers has on white collar crime. We cannot afford to leave the Southeast and Southwest without vital law enforcement officials who are tasked with reducing white collar crime.
I ask all of my colleagues to vote for this amendment to prevent the closure of these critical law enforcement offices until a more thorough review of the consequences can be undertaken. This is not a done deal. Congress should and must act.
My amendment won't cost a cent, but it would bring in more than a few dollars. Over the past 11 years, the Atlanta field office alone brought in over $265 million in fines and restitution. Let me be clear that is a 600 percent rate of return on this investment. What better proof do you need?
Mr. Chairman, I ask each and every one of my colleagues again to support the Lewis-Johnson amendment.
I yield back the balance of my time.
Ms. KAPTUR. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank Congressman Lewis for offering this amendment to the Commerce-Justice-Science fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill. The amendment is designed to prevent the U.S. Department of Justice from closing and reducing its antitrust division field offices from seven to only three in a country of over 300 million people in 50 States.
The Department of Justice literally and regrettably wants to, or is proposing to, close four of its antitrust field offices in response to budgetary pressures. This is partly because the Republican budget fails to provide the administration with the resources it has requested to carry out its basic mission.
Under Republican leadership, the legal activities account, which funds the antitrust division, was 2.2 percent less than the administration requested for the fiscal year 2012, and that resulted in a 5.2 percent cut compared to fiscal year 2011. When we cut 5.2 percent out of a particular account that primarily funds salaries and expenses, there are consequences.
However, congressional Republicans are not totally to blame. The President's budget says that the antitrust division is expecting an increase in caseloads and requested additional funding to administer the increase in caseload. Yet the administration wants to close over half the division's offices. What sense does this even make?
Also, the antitrust division is a key participant on the President's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. How can the division be a helpful participant when it is reducing its footprint across our country?
In one of America's poorest cities with lingering high unemployment--Cleveland, Ohio--that Department of Justice antitrust field office is scheduled to be closed. I'm concerned about the impact it will have, first of all, on the administration of justice in the field of antitrust, but also on the employees, businesses, and consumers that serve us in the greater Ohio area.
I'm very concerned for the hardworking employees in the Cleveland field office, one of the most efficient [Page: H2530]
antitrust divisions in the country because its employees are so talented. Cleveland is a community that still endures high unemployment due to the economic crisis and its lingering effects. Why would we want to do this now?
From my perspective, the amount of money the Department of Justice expects to save will not actually materialize because costs will increase elsewhere as a result of a reduced footprint across the country.
The reality is we should be furthering our support for the antitrust division, not closing offices or cutting funds. As currently structured, the antitrust division is one of the most efficient Agencies within the Federal Government. Its base budget was $159 million. Yet from 2009 to 2011 the division's efforts resulted in $2 billion in criminal fines and antitrust violations. That's a seven-to-one return on investment.
In addition, over the last two fiscal years, the antitrust division has been estimated to have saved consumers over $650 million as a result of its criminal enforcement efforts. Furthermore, the antitrust division successfully resolved 97 percent of its criminal cases in fiscal year 2011.
Without question, the antitrust division more than pays for itself seven times over. It has an outstanding track record. We should leave its current structure alone. In fact, we should seek to strengthen it and get greater return to the taxpayer for every dollar invested. No matter what happens here today or tomorrow, I'll continue to work with the other body to protect the antitrust division's presence across this country and work to ensure that the employees in communities like Cleveland and
the other communities are treated fairly, because in the final analysis, the American people need a robust antitrust division at the Department of Justice.
Mr. Chairman, I support the Lewis amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I rise in support of this amendment which will ensure that the Department of Justice has the resources it needs to fight white collar crime. The Department is preparing to close antitrust regional offices in Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, and Philadelphia. This amendment will prevent the closure of these field offices during fiscal year 2013.
As a member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet, I am concerned about the impact of these closures. This action will seriously undermine the division's ability to enforce antitrust laws by limiting the number of boots on the ground, particularly in the Southeast and the Southwest.
Closing these offices is very shortsighted. It puts nearly 100 jobs at risk in Atlanta and saves only $500,000 in fiscal year 2013. The proposal could end up costing money by transferring employees to regional offices with higher costs of living and higher salaries, like New York and San Francisco.
Further, the proposal will weaken the antitrust division as experienced attorneys who choose not to transfer leave for other opportunities. Antitrust law is a highly specialized field of law and the institutional knowledge of an experienced attorney is invaluable.
The Atlanta office ranks number one in terms of the most trial wins of any of the eight criminal offices. In fiscal year 2008, the Atlanta office ranked first among all of the criminal offices in the amount of restitution obtained for victims. For that fiscal year, the Atlanta office accounted for 71.2 percent of all restitution imposed by the division.
As this Nation recovers from a recession largely caused by white collar misdoing, I implore this House to consider the message that closure of these offices will send to the public. Those considering whether to commit white collar crime need to know that there is strict Federal enforcement. Closing these field offices sends the wrong message to criminals and the public at exactly the wrong time.
This Congress has been consumed with debating the proper role and scope of government. During that debate, we have all agreed that the minimum role of government is to ensure an equal playing field that allows opportunity for all and ensures that all wrong-doers will be prosecuted, no matter if they are engaged in petty criminal offenses or white collar crimes.
The antitrust division, which promotes and protects competition in the marketplace, is essential to good governance and fairness. Surely Tea Partyers and progressives, ALEC members and union leaders can all agree that government must ensure a fair and competitive marketplace that allows for innovation.
The closure of these four field offices will have the effect of significantly eroding the division's criminal enforcement program, leaving U.S. consumers and businesses in at least 19 States, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico unprotected against white collar crooks like Bernie Madoff who seek to rig bids, inflate prices, and otherwise defraud consumers and businesses.
I urge a ``yes'' vote on this amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. WOLF. I want to thank the gentleman and the gentlelady for raising this issue and standing up. This was not done by our committee. This was done by the Justice Department, by the administration.
But what we will do is next week we will ask the three or four who spoke, that we bring the Justice Department in. We will get them to come up here whereby they can sit down with all of you together and your staffs to explain why, and see if they can justify this. But I just want to be clear, this was not done at the committee's request. This was the Justice Department.
Mr. BISHOP of Georgia. I appreciate the gentleman yielding, and I appreciate those comments. I think it is clear that this was an action by the Department, and it was not an action taken by the committee.
However, several of us on the committee have grave concerns about it, and we appreciate the chairman's agreement and his willingness to discuss it with the Justice Department and see if we can't get this situation corrected.