Two congressmen are criticizing severe staffing shortages and cutbacks in U.S. attorney’s offices, which they say have halted prosecution of important cases including bank robberies, immigrant smuggling, and tax fraud, the Los Angeles Times reports. Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Ca.) and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mi.) told Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that federal prosecutors had been starved of resources while the Justice Department budget has grown faster than inflation – from $1.349 billion in fiscal year 2001 to $1.588 billion in 2006. The Justice Department blamed Congress for not allocating resources President Bush had requested.
In Los Angeles, the nation’s largest U.S. attorney’s office, 40 out of 190 positions for assistant U.S. attorneys are vacant, said Waxman and Conyers. “Does it affect the number of prosecutions of bad guys? Absolutely,” said one member of the office, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the issue. “There is a feeling main Justice [in Washington] doesn’t care.” He said the local FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration were hiring dozens of new agents, but their cases routinely hit a wall due to a lack of prosecutors. “Now we’re at the choking point.” Loyola law Prof. Laurie Levenson, a former prosecutor, called it a “hoax” on the public that Congress passed new laws like the Patriot Act but “you don’t have anyone to enforce them.”