The Washington Times - June 13, 2013, 08:20AM

Sen. Tom Coburn says the Justice Department is sounding the alarm over sequester-related furloughs of its law enforcement agents in the coming year but spends millions on conferences, salaries and grants.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder, the Senate’s top waste-watcher praises the agency for reprogramming $313 million to avoid agent furloughs this year. But he criticized the agency’s spending patterns, since agents might be furloughed next year if the sequester cuts are sustained.


“DOJ should not be threatening to furlough law enforcement agents while paying bonuses to recreation specialists for prisoners or sending bureaucrats on international junkets,” Mr. Coburn says in his letter.

He says Justice spent more than $58 million on conferences in fiscal 2012. In fiscal 2008, it spent $47.8 million, or more than three times the amount authorized by Congress, his letter says.

The Drug Enforcement Administration participated in a conference in Moscow last week, and Web data shows the agency planned to acquire 340 rooms for lodging and meeting space, Mr. Coburn’s letter says.

“While taxpayers expect government employees will sometimes need to spend tax dollars to meet in order to share information and gather knowledge on pressing and pertinent issues and to perform outreach in other countries, in these fiscal times, they do not expect or deserve their money to be used on the current jet-set culture at the department,” the letter says.

The Justice Department could not immediately be reached for comment on the letter.

Mr. Coburn also suggested the department is focusing on recreation specialists and writers, many of whom make more than $70,000 per year, at the expense of its agents.

“While there are certainly reasons for the Bureau of Prisons to employ recreation specialists, those needs take a backseat to keeping guards from being furloughed,” the letter says. “Furthermore, it is unclear why writers at the DEA, ATF, and FBI cannot be furloughed for a larger number of days to spare law enforcement officers from furloughs.”

The Justice Department said it is reviewing Mr. Coburn’s letter, but noted its recreational specialists are corrections workers who have direct supervision over a large number of inmates and that the conferences in question offer important national security and law enforcement training.

“As the department deals with the damaging impacts of sequestration, we continue to make difficult choices to cut important contract spending and law enforcement training, as well as imposing a hiring freeze,” department spokeswoman Adora Andy Jenkins said.

She said Congress needs to adopt a balanced deficit reduction plan to stop the “destructive cuts” contemplated for fiscal 2014, or the department “will have no choice but to furlough law enforcement agents, prosecutors, prison guards and other staff, reducing our ability to protect the American people, to safeguard vital programs and precious resources and to hold criminals accountable.”