It wasn’t quite a “Network” moment, but normally mild-mannered Attorney General Eric Holder showed a flash of anger Monday as he discussed the impacts of a looming government shutdown and the so-called budget sequester on rank-and-file workers at the Justice Department.
“This has real-world consequences for the employees of this department, who have to pay mortgages, who have to pay car notes, who have to buy groceries and I think that is something that people as they’re trying to make their political points need to keep in mind: there are good, hardworking Americans who are going to suffer because of this dysfunction—and I’m mad about that,” Holder said, jabbing his index finger towards reporters as he expressed his ire.
Blame for the budget disorder lies “primarily” with the House of Representatives, said the attorney general—who found himself at such disagreement with the GOP-led House last year that it voted to hold him in contempt of Congress.
“I have to say that this is something it seems to me can be worked through. People are trying to make a polticial point and I’m trying to run a Justice Department,” a frustrated Holder said. “We’re trying to keep the American people safe. We’re trying to keep crime down.”
“A substantial number of people in the Justice Department, assuming that the dysfunction is not worked out in the House today, are not going to be reporting for work tomorrow. That is going to have a disruptive effect on the work of the Justice Department,” the attorney general added. “We will certainly make sure that national security is protected. On the criminal side, our lawyers, our investigators will still be in the field, but on the civil side and in a range of other things the Justice Department is entrusted to do, we will not do the job that the American people expect of us.”
Under the department’s shutdown plan, about 85% of its personnel will be on duty even if the budget standoff continues. Most of those employees have been deemed essential because they are involve in criminal law enforcement or guarding prisoners or have to meet court-imposed deadlines. Some can keep working because their salaries come from accounts funded by forfeitures or user fees.
In many ways, the more serious budget axe facing the department is the reduction required by sequestration. That doesn’t exempt criminal enforcement or national security-related work. In fact, the fact that so many at DOJ are exempt from the shutdown means that it will be all but impossible for the department to absorb another year of sequestration cuts without laying off some of those involved in front-line law enforcement.
“Unless something is done to relieve us of the burden of sequestration, I can say that FBI agents and prosecutors will be furloughed,” Holder said Monday. “What the number will be, we’re still in the process of working that through. Sequestration at the level we’ve have to deal with in past history, necessarily will result in furloughs.”