More than 35 years ago, as a newly minted law school graduate, I moved from my hometown of New York City to Washington to take a job at the Justice Department. As an idealistic young lawyer, I was thrilled at the prospect of serving my country in the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division, where I helped bring accountability to those who abused the public trust. I knew public service offered a unique opportunity to help address national challenges and make a positive difference in the lives of my fellow citizens.
This was my “dream job.” Yet I remember thinking — as I packed up my car — that I would probably stay in Washington for only a couple of years at most.
That was 1976. Today, I’m still proud to call the Justice Department home. Aside from a few years on the bench and a brief stint in private practice, I have spent my entire career at this remarkable institution. Over the decades, I’ve learned from generations of extraordinary lawyers, law enforcement officials and other federal employees. And I’ve found there is no greater honor than representing the interests of the United States, standing on the side of the law and fighting for those it protects and empowers.
I still consider contributing to this work the most rewarding experience of my professional life. Each day, I am privileged to join nearly 116,000 Justice employees — serving in offices across the country and around the world — in helping to realize our nation’s founding principles of liberty, equality and justice. By striving to protect Americans from terrorism, violent crime, financial fraud, civil rights violations and threats to the most vulnerable members of society, these dedicated men and women continue to prove that the law can be a powerful force for good.
Most department employees are career attorneys, investigators, law enforcement leaders and support staff — all of whom work tirelessly not merely to win cases, but to see that justice is done. There can be no question that their daily efforts help to ensure our national security; to investigate crimes; to combat fraud; and to stand firm against discrimination, bias and intimidation wherever they are found.
When I returned to Justice as attorney general in February 2009, I was glad to be home — and enthusiastic about being a part of an exciting new chapter in the department’s history. I believe every American can be proud of the remarkable — and, in many cases, historic — progress my colleagues and I have brought about since then. But I am also deeply concerned that the department’s ability to build on this progress will be threatened by the long-term consequences of budget reductions — which will worsen in fiscal 2014 unless Congress adopts a balanced deficit reduction plan and prevents a fresh round of across-the-board cuts from taking effect.
These reductions — and the uncertainty created by the apparent willingness of Congress to lurch from one budgetary emergency to the next — are already having a detrimental impact on the department’s ability to carry out its essential missions and to plan and allocate resources for the challenges ahead. Even more critically, if the sequester is allowed to persist, I fear that it will undermine our ability to keep professionals on the job at the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; U.S. Marshals Service; and other public safety agencies.
As Americans, we simply cannot tolerate this untenable status quo any longer. These budgetary difficulties, and the pervasive atmosphere of crisis they create, do a grave disservice to the general public — and to hardworking federal workers and their families throughout the country.
That’s why, in the days ahead, I will continue to urge congressional leaders to prevent additional reductions from undermining the Justice Department’s important work. I ask my colleagues to keep fighting for the support we need to build on our recent progress. And I’m proud to count each of them as a partner in advancing our common efforts — and to stand with them in serving, and continuing to strengthen, the institution I love.
Eric H. Holder Jr. is attorney general.