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Glenn Fine describes historic shift in U.S. Department of Justice priorities at Elon Law forum

The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice from 2000 to 2011 said that the agency's top priority had changed dramatically since 2001, from detection and prosecution of crime to prevention of terrorism.

Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice (ret.) Glenn Fine

Speaking before an audience of Elon Law students and faculty on March 10, Fine said the dramatic change in Department of Justice (DOJ) priorities altered the focus of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) significantly.

He detailed several OIG reviews done in the counterterrorism area in the last decade, including a 2010 report about the DOJ’s preparedness to respond to a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) attack.

“We found that the FBI actually did have an effective plan and had practiced that plan, but the rest of the department had not,” Fine said, noting that the report helped to advance Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) efforts to improve coordination, planning, and processes to help first responders in the wake of potential WMD attacks.

Other DOJ improvements that Fine said were achieved, in part, because of OIG investigations and reports include:

  • Improved criteria and procedures for registering people to the FBI Terrorist Screening Center watch list and removing those cleared of suspicion from the list more efficiently;
  • Expanded hiring of linguists to translate FBI findings into foreign languages and improved procedures to determine what information should be translated most quickly;
  • Adjustment in the treatment of illegal aliens detained after 9/11, allowing detainees reasonable access to legal counsel and stemming instances of detainee abuse.

“We thought it was very important for the Department, and for the country, to uphold its ideals while it aggressively investigated terrorism,” Fine said.

Serving under three U.S. presidents and five U.S attorneys general, Fine holds the longest tenure of any Inspector General for the Department of Justice. Upon his retirement in January, the New York Times wrote in an editorial (Feb. 1, 2011) that Fine had devoted time in the position, “pushing to clean up and depoliticize a hyperpoliticized department.”

At the Elon Law forum, Fine emphasized the professionalism of the employees at the Department of Justice.

Elon Law students Karima Grady, center, and Gwendolyn Lewis speak with Glenn Fine, who served as Inspector General in the U.S. Department of Justice from 2000 to 2011

“The vast, vast majority are hard-working, dedicated career employees, but there are going to be issues and problems in an entity that has 110,000 employees and a $29 billion dollar budget and we are set up to oversee that and to point them out and to help improve the Department.”

Noting that the reports produced by the OIG regularly included recommendations for how to fix problems identified through investigations, Fine said his office sought to play a constructive role in improving the Department.

“Our job was not to be liked, our job was to do a tough job, to do it well, to do it fairly, and to do work that was respected,” Fine said, “I think that is what we tried to do and I hope that’s what we’ve accomplished.”

Concluding his talk, Fine noted that the DOJ is a unique institution in its pursuit of the ideal of justice and he encouraged law students to engage in public service.

“Public service is a great thing. I believe you can do that in many different ways … but it has tremendous satisfactions.” Fine said. “At the end of the day you are pursuing the greater good.”

Click here for a list of special reports produced over the last fifteen years by the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Click on the E-Cast links adjacent to this article for video segments of Fine's remarks at Elon Law.

Philip Craft,
3/18/2011 4:18 PM