The Justice Department has notified Antitrust Division employees in Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas and Philadelphia that their local field offices will close over the next 12 months following Congress’s review of the department’s proposed realignment.
The long-expected announcement (see our previous coverage here) has left some Antitrust Division attorneys frustrated.
“The way it’s been handled is subpar and unsatisfactory from an employee standpoint,” said Timothy Westrick, a career trial attorney in the Cleveland Office. ”Our impression is that we certainly have not been given full information and this has been in the works long before there was any sort of pronouncement from management.”
He continued: “[As] dedicated civil servants, you work very hard for the U.S. government and people of the U.S., … and then this is how this sort of thing is handled.”
The career attorneys will have a harder time than office staff in finding new jobs in their cities, Westrick argued.
The department has said that career attorneys in the soon-to-be-shuttered field offices can relocate to the other Antitrust Division offices that are not closing–in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, or San Francisco–or apply for positions throughout the country with U.S. Attorney offices. They are supposed to be guaranteed job interviews. Alternatively, attorneys can serve one-year details at nearby U.S. Attorney offices.
But many career attorneys in the closing field offices have families, making it hard to relocate.
For some, “the logistics [of moving offices] just isn’t feasible,” Westrick said.
The attorneys looking to move to U.S. Attorneys’ offices are also frustrated. Many who have applied for the positions around the country have not gotten the job interviews they were promised. “None of us have received any interview whatsoever,” Westrick said. “Some haven’t even received responses. We don’t know if the [U.S. Attorney] offices are even aware of these pronouncements.”
The department has also released contradictory information about the one-year details. The department originally said Antitrust Division attorneys could potentially hold one-year details at nearby U.S. Attorney offices, but later said in a teleconference the details would run only until the Antitrust Division field office actually closed, which might be prior to the potential end-date of a one-year detail, Westrick said.
Finally, it’s unclear whether the Antitrust Division attorneys must commit to transferring to another Antitrust Division field office after the one-year detail at a U.S. Attorney’s office.
In total 81 department employees–44 lawyers and 37 support staff –are affected by the office closures.
The displaced office staff have been told they can continue to work at nearby U.S. Attorney offices. ”They’ll have no issue there,” Westrick said. “They’re in a good position.”
Antitrust Division staff and attorneys leaving the department for retirement are eligible for a number of benefits, including early-out retirement programs and a severance package.
The Justice Department is “moving forward with [its] cost-saving and efficiency enhancing proposal to realign the Antitrust Division Field Division office structure,” spokeswoman Gina Talamona said. “This measure will reduce rental office space, save money, and enhance efficiency while offering jobs to affected employees and maintaining the effectiveness of the division’s criminal program.
She continued: ”Vigorous criminal antitrust enforcement will continue both domestically and internationally.”