Sen. Herb Kohl said last week he is deeply concerned about the Justice Department’s proposed closure of four of its Antitrust Division Field Offices, saying it could hamper enforcement of antitrust cases on the local and regional levels.
Kohl (D-Wis.), who is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights, voiced his concerns in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in response to a plea from 12 regional office chiefs. The division leaders from all but one field office wrote to acting Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division Sharis Pozen in February, saying there will be an “inevitable reduction in criminal antitrust enforcement.”
The letter states that the 21 states, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico that are currently covered by the outgoing field offices will be shifted to already overburdened prosecutors in the other offices.
In a projected $8 million cost-saving move, the Justice Department announced last October that it would consolidate the Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas and Philadelphia field offices into the Chicago, New York and San Francisco field offices, in addition to the Washington, D.C.-based section. The 94 members of those offices have been offered transfers to the remaining field offices.
The regional office managers noted they and other career antitrust prosecutors were never consulted before the department announced its plans to shutter the offices.
Main Justice, however, has said that enforcement will not drop off because of the reduced field offices.
“There is very good reason to believe that closing these four field offices will make the detection of criminal antitrust conspiracies in the regions served by these offices more difficult,” Kohl wrote. “A substantial risk exists that, without a presence in these cities and regions, it will be significantly more difficult to detect criminal antitrust conspiracies and that ongoing illegal cartel activity will go unremedied.”
The senator also wrote that he is not convinced the cost savings are sufficient. DOJ staff told Kohl that $6 million of the projected $8 million in savings is from personnel costs. This is calculated from the DOJ’s estimate that about half of the 94 field office staff members will not accept a reassignment.
“In my view, this is another way of saying that the bulk of the cost savings are going to be realized by a reduction in the staff of the Antitrust Division,” Kohl wrote. The senator also noted the closure of these offices while hiring increased staff in local U.S. Attorney offices. ”This would seem to be a reallocation of priorities inside the Justice Department which very well may shortchange antitrust enforcement,” he wrote.
Kohl has asked Holder to carefully reexamine the proposal before completely closing the targeted field offices.
The regional chief and assistant chiefs who signed the letter sent to Pozen were Nezida S. Davis and James J. Kurosad of the Atlanta Field office; Scott M. Watson and Michael F. Wood of the Cleveland office; Duncan S. Currie and Mitchell R. Chitwood of the Dallas office; Robert E. Connolly and Joseph Muoio, Jr., of the Philadelphia office; Marvin N. Price, Jr., and Frank J. Vondrak of the Chicago office; and Phillip H. Warren and Peter K. Huston of the San Francisco office.