It wasn’t because of controversies about Mary Beth Buchanan. Or Chris Christie. The Department of Justice swears.
New rules that ensure U.S. Attorneys don’t travel on the taxpayer dime for political purposes are the result of a review process that found the previous guidelines to be confusing, the department said.
“The previous policies and procedures were admittedly inconsistent — and the new memo was a result of a comprehensive review of all travel rules and regulations,” Justice Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said in a statement. “Moving forward, this memo will serve as the single set of guidelines for the U.S. Attorney community, and all other guidance will be based off this memo.”
The Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys updates policies and procedures as needed, Schwartz said. “These updated procedures reflect goals of improved transparency and stewardship of taxpayer dollars,” she added.
The new guidelines came to light earlier this week in a story by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after the newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the travel records of Buchanan, the former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Those records indicated that Buchanan spent more than half her time on the road, costing taxpayers $450,000.
Appointed during the George W. Bush administration, Buchanan resigned Nov. 16 to run for the Republication nomination for the 4th congressional district in Pennsylvania. She lost that race in May to former Department of Homeland Security official Keith Rothfus.
In New Jersey, a former U.S. Attorney’s travel expenses were an issue in last year’s governor’s race. Incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D) used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain travel records for Christie, his Republican opponent. The records showed the prosecutor often exceeded his government allowance and stayed in luxury hotels while serving as the state’s chief federal prosecutor. Christie won the election.
The new travel policy memo, sent to U.S. Attorneys’ offices in February and authored by Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys Director H. Marshall Jarrett, said the revamped procedures will ensure compliance with travel policies; strengthen internal controls and oversight of U.S. Attorneys’ travel in a user-friendly process; and maintain the integrity and reputation the U.S. Attorney position. The procedures were implemented March 1.
U.S. Attorneys can approve their own travel within their district, but must get approval from the Director of EOUSA or the Deputy Director for Administration and Management if they use premium class travel accommodations or actual subsistence is requested, according to the memo.
When traveling outside of their districts domestically, the U.S. Attorney must notify the Executive Office at least five days in advance of planned departure date. If the travel is being reimbursed by a non-federal source, they must submit their request 10 days in advance and the request will be reviewed by the EOUSA’s General Counsel’s Office. Foreign travel requires authorizations to be submitted 15 days in advance, according to the new regulations.
Under the guidelines, the EOUSA will conduct audits of a sample of each U.S. Attorney’s travel authorizations and vouchers every six months to ensure offices are complying with the regulations.
DOJ rules state that travel conducted by those in higher level positions at Justice Department headquarters has to be authorized by either the Deputy Attorney General or the Associate Attorney General.
The memo is embedded below.
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President Barack Obama tapped a former Justice Department official for a spot on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the White House announced Thursday.
Mary Murguia, who led the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys from 1999 to 2000 and served in other capacities at the DOJ prior to that beginning in 1990, would take the seat vacated by Judge Michael D. Hawkins, who has taken senior status. She has served as a U.S. District Court judge in Arizona since 2000.
“Judge Murguia has displayed an outstanding commitment to public service throughout her career and as a District Judge in Arizona,” Obama said in a statement. “I am honored to nominate her today for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals and confident she will serve the American people with fairness and integrity.”
The Justice Department wants to add dozens of tech-savvy staffers and several lawyers to handle the new problems posed by evolving technologies during the legal discovery process, according to the Justice Department’s budget proposal for fiscal 2011.
The Civil Division of the Justice Department is requesting 12 new positions and a $2 million budget increase, because it doesn’t have enough support staff with technical expertise. The Environment and Natural Resources Division has requested an additional $1 million and nine new positions. And, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, which has no electronic discovery support in place, would like $2 million, to fund 12 new positions for electronic discovery and litigation support.
“It’s going to be a mess. That much is clear,” said an expert on figuring out how to handle the issue of e-discovery.
Newly appointed National Coordinator of Criminal Discovery Initiatives Andrew Goldsmith will act as the primary liaison to all of the United States Attorneys’ Offices and department components on issues related to electronic evidence in criminal cases, according to the Justice Department.
In May, former Deputy Attorney General David Ogden said that the department had established a working group under the direction of the Associate Attorney General, Tom Perrelli, “to look at our civil discovery practices and capabilities to ensure our litigators have the training and resources necessary to deal with the current demands in the electronic era.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed to Main Justice that the department is beefing up its training and seeking additional funding to hire new attorneys and technical staff.
“Based on interviews with e-discovery specialists from large, private law firms, it appears that the private sector is adapting to the demands of e-discovery by developing a cadre of lawyers with more sophisticated technological expertise,” according to a DOJ budget request for the Civil Division. The Civil Division will hire several “Tier-3” attorneys with e-discovery expertise to perform a number of functions including overseeing staff and coordinating with the government agencies they represent.
Consultant George Socha, the co-founder of the Electronic Discovery Reference Mode, which develops guidelines and standards for clients on the issues of electronic discovery, said the federal government, like private industry, is still figuring out the problems posed by new technology.
Unlike with paper, if you pick up a hard drive, said Socha, “you don’t have a clue what’s on it.” The amount of data that both government and private firms are dealing with is astronomical, according to Socha.
Varying requirements for the storage of information across the government agencies that the Civil Division has to defend could cause more confusion. Government is still figuring out ways to archive, store and search e-mail as a whole new set of problems — including new document formats, multimedia data that is not easily searchable and the movement towards “cloud-computing” — grow in popularity.
“Lawyers did not go to law school to figure out what to do with computers,” said Socha. “What we’re trying to do is to figure out what in the world it is we’re talking about. Can we break down this process into distinct units that become more manageable?”
Other decisions that the Justice Department would have to make is how to allocate resources — what percentage to dedicate to hiring new people, to providing training, to setting up formal processes and to purchasing new sets of tools to manage the flow of data, said Socha.
“It’s going to be a mess. That much is clear,” said Socha.
Andrew Ramonas contributed to this report.