“A Small Group of Thoughtful, Committed Individuals”

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals
can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.
~ Margaret Mead

Last Labor Day, Fraud by the Numbers paid homage to the powerful group of government and private attorneys who, together with a corps of investigative agents, are the front-line protectors of America’s treasury. In FY2022, roughly 15% of the work by the Department of Justice’s Civil Division’s 896 attorneys in its “Main Justice” office in Washington, D.C. focused on affirmative litigation, or bringing new cases on behalf of the Government. And an even smaller group, only 39 attorneys and 9 staff members, are in the Civil Fraud division – the unit of lawyers who oversee False Claims Act litigation and work hand-in-hand with qui tam counsel, whistleblowers, and counterparts in the local U.S. Attorney’s Offices.

The small but mighty combination of lawyers from Main Justice, local U.S. Attorney’s Offices, and whistleblowers’ counsel achieved outsize results in FY2021, with the Civil Division reporting $5.6 billion in False Claims Act settlements and judgments.

The number of attorneys working on behalf of US taxpayers has been relatively consistent since at least FY2017 when 849 attorneys were budgeted to the Civil Division, as shown in the chart below.

Source: DOJ Civil Division budget reports. The number of full-time equivalent affirmative litigation attorneys is calculated by multiplying the total number of Civil Division attorneys by the percentage of affirmative litigation at the outset of the corresponding fiscal year.

The FY2023 budget request for the Civil Division saw the largest increase in years, seeking to add 63 new attorneys, though only 7 of those would be added to the Civil Fraud section. While any increase in fraud investigators is a positive step for fraud enforcement, the numbers pale in comparison to the concurrent massive increase in federal spending. In FY2017, the United States’ actual spending totaled $3.99 trillion; just five years later in FY2021, that amount had leapt to $6.82 trillion. The more government spending increases, the more opportunities there are for fraud on the national fisc, and the more need there is for robust anti-fraud enforcement.

But help is on the horizon. On March 3, 2022, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that Congress’s FY2022 budget would add 120 new criminal division attorneys to fight pandemic-related fraud, along with 900 new FBI agents in the White-Collar Crime Program. The new criminal attorneys, plus the massive tranche of new FBI agents, amplify the Civil Division’s continuing efforts to bring billions lost to fraud back into the Government’s coffers. The supercharged, coordinated efforts will be crucial to address the fraud epidemic that followed the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Justice’s attorneys – civil or criminal, new or established – will also continue to be aided at every step by the 425 active members of Taxpayers Against Fraud who bring False Claims Act cases in virtually every district in America. TAF members, and the whistleblowers they represent, are vital force-multipliers who expand the government’s fraud fighting ability and help return billions to the government every year. Together, this small group of thoughtful, committed individuals is changing the world every day.

Written by Jillian Estes of Morgan Verkamp. A special thank you to Colleen Brugger, Summer Law Clerk at Morgan Verkamp for her research assistance on this post.

Edited by Kate Scanlan of Keller Grover and Regina Poserina of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC. Fact checked by Julia-Jeane Lighten of Taxpayers Against Fraud.