A quiet revolution is underway and it represents real change that is positively impacting all Americans.
In departments and agencies all over Washington, the most diverse Cabinet in American history is retooling and transforming government to better serve the people.
Consider the Department of Justice. Over the last year, Attorney General Eric Holder has taken a number of steps to repair a department that, to put it mildly, lost its focus during the Bush administration. The department is now prosecuting criminals and fighting Internet crimes at a historic rate. And while protecting the country against terrorism remains the primary concern, it has not lost sight of important priorities like protecting our civil rights and ensuring fairness in the market place.
Under Holder’s leadership, federal prosecutors have jailed hundreds engaged in foreclosure rescue scams and loan modification fraud. And thankfully, these prosecutors and other career justice officials are again being promoted and judged based on their record not punished because of their political affiliations, as was the case in the Bush administration. Moreover, by issuing new guidelines regarding the Freedom of Information Act, the Attorney General has made transparency in government a priority again.
In his first trip abroad, Holder visited our neighbors in Mexico with one clear message: The piecemeal approach to combat the illegal drug trade and reduce the threat and influence of international cartels are over. His frustration was as clear as his resolve. And over the last 12 months, his Justice Department and affiliated agencies have shown that a new sheriff, indeed, is in town.
The administration has invested $700 million and hired hundreds of federal employees to help secure the Southwest border and combat and confront threats posed by Mexican cartels. In one noteworthy moment, Justice and their state, local and international partners, arrested over 700 individuals, many in the United States illegally. Authorities seized more than $59 million in cash, 12,000 kilos of cocaine, 23 tons of narcotics and an estimated 1.3 million Ecstasy pills and other drugs.
Now that’s change I can believe in.
In this same vein, the Department of Justice has recouped billions of dollars for Joe and Jill Taxpayer. Last year, Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services launched an ambitious effort to reduce Medicare and Medicaid fraud. The effort is aptly called HEAT (Healthcare fraud prevention & Enforcement Action Team) and to date the program has brought in $2.4 billion in judgments and settlements. In total last year, Justice has recouped more than $4.5 billion for taxpayers. That’s billion, with a “b.”
This new, aggressive department has also compiled an impressive record prosecuting financial fraud schemes. In a crack down in which every middle class taxpayer can be proud, Justice and the Internal Revenue Service aggressively pursued well-to-do tax dodgers hiding hundreds of millions of dollars in undisclosed foreign accounts. In less than a year, some 14,000 individuals have come forward to pay over $780 million in interest, penalties and fines.
And it was also the U.S. Department of Justice, lest we forget, that negotiated the Bernie Madoff plea agreement, which included eleven felony counts. Madoff is currently serving a 150-year sentence for defrauding honest and unwitting investors in a massive Ponzi scheme.
The president and Attorney General Holder have assembled an impressive team at Justice, among them is the new Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. Thomas Perez was nominated by President Obama last March and confirmed by the Senate some six months later, after obstruction by a handful of Republican senators. A career public servant, Perez has distinguished himself as a tough prosecutor who stops at nothing in the relentless pursuit of justice. In the 90s, he received widespread praise for the successful prosecution of a gang of white supremacists who went on a racially motivated (and fatal) crime spree in Texas. My friend Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights calls him “arguably the most qualified candidate ever nominated for the position.”
To be clear, I don’t agree with everything Eric Holder does. (His remarks calling America a “”nation of cowards” regarding matters of race were distracting and unnecessary.) However, his thoughtful approach to the administration of justice is both welcome and appreciated. That approach is neither Democratic nor Republican—it’s American. And while conservative and liberals alike have reason to cheer and jeer the Attorney General’s many decisions, he has successfully rebuilt the Department into one in which all Americans concerned with equality and justice under the law should take great pride.