Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, who emerged as the government’s most independent watchdog, announced his resignation on Monday in letters to President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., saying it was time to “pursue new professional challenges.”
Mr. Fine, named to the inspector general’s job by President Clinton in 2000 after five years as a top lawyer in the office, including serving as special counsel to the then-inspector general, told Mr. Obama and Mr. Holder he was proud of the “significant contributions” the Office of Inspector General (OIG) made during his time in office.
“Through our audits, investigations, inspections and special reviews, we have sought to improve the department’s performance, promote economy and efficiency in its programs, and detect and deter waste, fraud and abuse in its operation,” he wrote.
“I know that the OIG and its employees are well positioned to continue their outstanding work,” he said. “The OIG has an experienced leadership team and extremely talented employees, and it has been my privilege to work with such a dedicated group of public servants.” He is expected to leave office by the end of January.
Mr. Fine headed the OIG during a particularly turbulent period, faced with questions in the George W. Bush administration concerning Justice Department tactics in the war on terror, the political firing and hiring of U.S. attorneys and various government lawyers and the FBI’s probe of advocacy groups and improper use of national security letters.
In 2008, Mr. Fine’s office determined that former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had failed to properly secure 18 top-secret documents related to National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance and detainee-interrogation programs. In a report, the OIG said Mr. Gonzales took home notes that included classified information from a meeting about the NSA surveillance program and that he also improperly kept 17 other classified documents in a safe outside his office at the Justice Department that at least five staff members without appropriate clearances could access.
More recently, Mr. Fine said his office would investigate the Obama administration’s role in the New Black Panther Party case to determine whether Voting Section employees have been harassed for participating in specific investigations or prosecutions. He said his office would review what types of cases were being investigated, whether there have been changes in enforcement policies and procedures and whether the civil rights laws were being enforced in a nondiscriminatory manner.
Mr. Holder said that for more than 15 years, Mr. Fine’s commitment to “integrity and professionalism” helped the Justice Department “fulfill its most important responsibilities.”
“Throughout his decade-long tenure as Inspector General, he has embodied the Justice Department’s highest ideals and greatest traditions of service,” Mr. Holder said. “In the Justice Department’s most critical operations and practices, especially our efforts to combat corruption, fraud, waste and abuse, the work done by the Office of the Inspector General is essential.”
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, commended Mr. Fine “for his years of dedicated government service, particularly his excellent work over the last decade.
“Inspectors General play a crucial role in ensuring that government agencies and their employees operate efficiently, effectively, within the scope of the law, and with integrity and commitment to American values,” Mr. Leahy’s statement said.
“All Americans should appreciate Inspector General Fine’s audits of the use of surveillance authorities under the Patriot Act,” he said. “These investigations led to greater public accountability and triggered important reforms by the FBI in its use of National Security Letter and other authorities.”
Before joining the OIG, Mr. Fine had been in private law practice in Washington, specializing in labor and employment law. Before entering private practice, he was an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington.