The Tax Division’s temporary detail program, which was criticized by some members of Congress earlier this year, is set to end today as the division prepares to welcome back a full force of lawyers in Washington, D.C.
Fewer than 10 percent of the division’s more than 350 attorneys, both criminal prosecutors and civil litigators, took 6-month details at various U.S. Attorney’s offices across the country, Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said. They worked primarily on tax cases, but also financial fraud and other finance-related enforcement matters.
The Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys proposed the detail program and Deputy Attorney General James Cole approved it in an effort to ease staffing issues at the U.S. Attorney’s offices during the department’s hiring freeze.
But what had concerned lawmakers was the dispersal of about a third of the division’s approximately 95 criminal prosecutors to the U.S. Attorney offices at a time when the division had gained momentum in cracking down on overseas tax avoidance and other high-profile matters.
While most of the lawyers are returning to Justice Department headquarters, five detailees accepted full-time positions with U.S. Attorney’s offices. One has decided to become a law clerk and another is moving to private practice. Miller also said a “very small number” of the lawyers will remain at their assignments for a short time to deal with “unique circumstances,” including an upcoming trial.
Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division Kathryn Keneally, who was confirmed by the Senate in March after the Tax Division lawyers had already applied for the detail program, said she looks forward to the lawyers’ return on Monday.
“We are welcoming back a full force and we are happy to see that,” she said at a briefing with reporters yesterday about a new directive giving U.S. Attorney’s offices more tools to stop criminals from using stolen identities to steal tax refunds.
Keneally pronounced the detail program a success for both Main Justice and the U.S. Attorney offices, fostering closer coordination with some of the 94 federal prosecutor outposts across the country.
Some lawmakers had been skeptical. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said in March he was concerned about diverting a “significant portion” of the division’s criminal prosecutors outside the division.
Keneally said the division is ready to deal with the growing threats to taxpayers. ”We are committed here to the role of central tax administration — that tax enforcement is consistent on a national basis,” she said. “And also to be able to respond as we see specific issues come up in different places and see priorities as those arise to bring resources to them effectively.”
The new directive authorizes U.S. Attorney offices to prosecute the tax refund fraud crimes, estimated to cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Enforcement had previously been centralized at the Tax Division in Washington. Keneally said the detail program had no bearing on the issuing of the directive.