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October 1, 2013

Will government shutdown have any big impact on the federal criminal justice system?

As reported in this Washington Times article, Attorney General Eric Holder made some headlines yesterday by lamenting the impact of political dysfunction inside the Beltway.  Here are some details:

Some FBI agents and federal prosecutors face furloughs if the government shuts down Monday night, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said he would take a voluntary pay cut because of political “dysfunction.”

“People are trying to make a political point, and I’m trying to run a Justice Department,” Mr. Holder told reporters Monday. “We’re trying to keep the American people safe. We’re trying to keep crime down. We’re trying to go after financial crimes. There are a whole range of things that we are simply trying to do.”

The nation’s top law enforcement official said Justice Department officials were still evaluating how many furlough notices to send out in the event that Congress and the White House fail to reach a temporary budget deal before midnight Monday. “It is entirely possible that we will have to put on furlough FBI agents, prosecutors as a result of … the dysfunction that exists primarily in the House,” Mr. Holder said. “That is going to have a disruptive impact on the work of the Justice Department.”

He said he would take a pay cut in solidarity with furloughed employees. “As I’ve made clear to the people in this department, we are all in this together, and whatever pain they suffer, I will share with them,” Mr. Holder said.

Based on other reports and what federal judges and defense attorneys have been saying, I surmise that the sequester continues to have a bigger impact on the day-to-day work of the federal criminal justice system than a short-term government shutdown. But I surmise that various difficulties created by budget cut backs are likely to be exacerbated by this latest round of political posturing.

More broadly, I cannot help be think and fear that the momentum building for statutory sentencing reforms must be getting slowed down as a result of all the Beltway bickering. The optimist in me hopes that when this latest budget crisis passes, legislators will be eager to make peace by passing some bi-partisan legislation such as the Justice Safety Valve Act and/or the Smarter Sentencing Act. But my pessimistic side fears that these folks will have a hard time agreeing on anything in the weeks and months ahead.

October 1, 2013 at 08:44 AM | Permalink


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Doug, from what I understand, the United States Attorneys across the country have been deemed "essential" for the safety and security of the country; at the same time, the federal public defender system is being decimated. I hope I'm wrong.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Oct 1, 2013 11:11:30 AM

This is an opportunity for a naturalistic experiment. What got shut off? What difference did it make? If the answer is little or no difference, make the furloughs permanent. If a big adverse difference results, it validates the value of the service, as profit, and not as rent. Great thesis opportunity for PhD students of all government functions, sociology, economics, criminology.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 1, 2013 11:52:57 AM

This is not a positive or negative comment about the shut down but I am also concerned that it is a distraction from important consideration about sentencing reform, simplifying the tax code and paring down the criminal and regulatory code.

I would also like to see a reexamination of the NSA and Homeland Security - and while we're at it how about a closer look at defense contracts.

These are all things that would fatten the bottom line but are largely ignored. Discretionary spending seems to be off the cutting board, but that is where the pork is.

To answer the question - I don't think that furloughs in the Justice Department will make us "less safe", although I'm sure that they are looking for important decisions and actions to delay - followed by an anouncement that this is what happens when they are understaffed. I do not really like to read cynical opinions like the one I just penned.

Posted by: beth | Oct 1, 2013 12:42:42 PM

Perhaps, if it interferes with the "Affordable Care Act",
so that

"Sha'nayse [will be] giving up on her dreams"

"Nancy can['t] get insurance, just like everybody else,"


"Our people" will once again be "forced to go without insurance".

Thusly, there would be multitudinous "Americans you'd hurt"..
"you'd be a deadbeat". --Pres. Obama, Rose Garden, 10/1/13

Posted by: Adamakis | Oct 1, 2013 1:30:11 PM

Given what has to be done the remainder of this year:

1) The current continuing resolution;
2) The annual/biannual adjustment of the debt ceiling (i.e. how much one part of the federal government can loan the other parts of the federal government -- approximately 50% of the current national debt is actually owed to various government trust funds and counts against the debt limit);
3) Any actual appropriations bills; and
4) The next continuing resolution to keep the government going until February/March

it is unlikely that anything of major substance moves between now and the return to "normal" legislating in March. At which point, looming primaries, etc., freezes out anything even slightly controversial.

I know it is slightly before my time, but wasn't the shift from a July-June fiscal year to an October-September fiscal year supposed to give Congress enough time to get appropriations bills done before the start of the fiscal year.

Posted by: tmm | Oct 1, 2013 1:57:55 PM

I see the Federal Govnt is so important the stock market is advancing well today.

I think they should close all of the DOJ, 40% of the Pentagon, all of Nasa and certainly all of Congress and the WhiteHouse, without Pay of coarse...

In another week the country would be out of debt and we could roll back the payroll tax that was bestowed upon us in Jan...Ouch.

The DOJ can be cut in half permananently.
Bill Otis doesn't need his retirement, nor does the rest of the Tired ex Judges, AUSA and congress, Senators..Of corse their free health insurance is gone as well.. Thats how you fix our debt troubles, right now..

Posted by: MidWest Guy | Oct 1, 2013 3:30:36 PM

'Will government shutdown have any big impact on the federal criminal justice system?'

Wow and to think that all these past ~25 yrs. Many were under the impression that the government had already be shut down

Posted by: Time Flies | Oct 1, 2013 3:58:39 PM

MidWestGuy --

"I see the Federal Govnt is so important the stock market is advancing well today."


Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 1, 2013 4:34:55 PM

Hi Bill, I slammed you kind of and you didn't get bent out of shape, what gives...

Naw, it is funny the govnt shuts down and the markets go up a bit..

I think Joe avg could slash a lot of unnecessary spending for 3 yrs that would have a big impact on cutting the debt..

But the Feds need to get a handle on spending or its of little value going forward..The markets will start to dive as well...It will take holt and snowball the longer they are partially shutdown...But the markets are over inflated a lot by the bond buying of 85 Billion/mon. Keep interst rates and housing on the move.. That is going to have to be weaned and soon..In fact its way way past due.

Have a nice day..

Posted by: MidWest Guy | Oct 2, 2013 9:48:42 AM

Getting off the original topic and going to economics, institutional traders play a large role in the stock market.

These folks -- unlike John Doe on Main Street -- track developments, both political and business as they are happening and predict ahead. This makes it difficult to correlate one day's ups and downs to the events of that day because some of the investors (how many is impossible to tell) already hedged their bets based on their expectation that X (here a government shutdown, in other cases the third quarter earnings of Z corporation) would occur. That makes it impossible to draw conclusion from any single day on the stock market and requires looking at the changes over a slightly longer period (e.g. does the stock market start to slide when the shutdown enters its third/fourth week).

Even longer term, investigators are weighing the anticipated returns on stocks versus the anticipated returns on other investments (e.g., bonds, commodities). Thus, you could have very bad economic news that would have little impact on the stock market because investors think/guess that the impact on other investments will be even more detrimental than the impact on stocks.

Posted by: tmm | Oct 2, 2013 4:59:05 PM

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