A House Republican reintroduced legislation late Thursday that would require the director of the Bureau of Prisons to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Known as the Federal Prisons Accountability Act, the legislation sponsored by Rep. Fred Keller of Pennsylvania would require the same congressional review for the Bureau of Prisons director as other principal law enforcement agency chiefs in the Justice Department, such as the directors of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Additionally, the legislation would set a single 10-year term as the tenure for the BOP director.
The action comes shortly after BOP Director Michael Carvajal announced his retirement. A 30-year veteran of the department, Mr. Carvajal was appointed director by President Trump in February 2020 and will remain in the post until a successor is chosen.
“With the retirement of Director Carvajal, our legislation is not only timely to ensure that the American people have oversight over the future leadership of the BOP, but a critical step needed to address operational challenges like staffing shortages and inmate security,” Mr. Keller said in a statement. “It’s long overdue that the BOP is held to the same standard as other top law enforcement agencies in this country.”
The BOP director manages a $7 billion budget and over 36,000 employees, as well as overseeing 172,000 federal inmates. Mr. Keller noted that the DOJ Inspector General’s annual report called the BOP’s increasing costs a “persisting crisis,” despite a “downward trend” in the federal prison population.
Mr. Keller, chairman of the House’s Bureau of Prisons Reform Caucus, said Congress must strengthen oversight of the scandal-plagued bureau and change how its director is chosen.
Presently, unlike most Justice Department administrators and directors, the attorney general can appoint someone to the BOP post.
If the bill is passed and signed by President Biden after Mr. Carvajal’s replacement is appointed, that person could be required to go through Senate confirmation.
Since 2012, lawmakers in the Senate, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, have attempted to pass a similar bill four times. Mr. Keller previously introduced his legislation in 2020. The legislation has never made it to a floor debate in either chamber.
But Mr. Carvajal’s retirement may be an opportunity for lawmakers to make the case to their colleagues about the legislation, because The Associated Press reported in November that more than 100 Bureau of Prisons workers have been arrested, convicted or sentenced for crimes since the beginning of 2019.
According to the AP, two-thirds of the criminal cases against DOJ personnel involved federal prison workers in recent years. This personnel accounts for less than one-third of the department’s workforce — of 41 arrests in 2021, 28 were of BOP employees or contractors. The FBI had five, while the DEA and the ATF each had two.