By David Pendered
This story has been updated to reflect comments from the federal Justice Department.
A proposal to close the Atlanta field office of the U.S. Antitrust Division of the Justice Department has drawn opposition from U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Lithonia.
The Atlanta office would close as part of the Justice Department’s effort to save almost $8 million by consolidating the field offices now located in Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas and Philadelphia. A total of 94 employees would be reassigned to existing offices in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington.
The department has not said when the consolidations would occur.
The Atlanta office has 26 employees, Johnson wrote. It is located in the Richard B. Russell Building in Downtown Atlanta. Tax records show the federal Government Services Administration owns the building.
Johnson sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, dated Feb. 1.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said late Wednesday that the proposed closure of the Atlanta division is pending before Congress. Under federal budget procedures, the department notified the House Committee on Appropriations that it recommends closing four offices as part of a cost-saving effort. The matter appears to be in the hands of budget writers.
Johnson asks that the Atlanta field division remain open and that other field offices be merged into it.
Johnson emphasized the cost-savings of maintaining the Atlanta office, which he wrote has lower rents and lower locality pay than the cities where it could be relocated.
Johnson also wrote that Atlanta needs to have an Antitrust Division:
“It is critical that the Atlanta office is included in the consolidation for several reasons. Atlanta is a hub of international business. Atlanta is the capital of the South and a gateway to the world. Atlanta’s antitrust bar is well-recognized by lawyers and jurists throughout the United States and the globe.”
The letter concludes:
“The reorganization as proposed will mean that the entire southern half of the United States will have no criminal antitrust enforcers who are familiar with these georgraphic regions, markets, businesses, the courts and antitrust bar. The department likely would see diminished deterrence as a result and its actions would give credence to the old adage that out of sight means out of mind.”
The office covers Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the department’s website.
Johnson’s action responds to a cost-savings proposal annouced by the Justice Department on Oct. 5.
The proposed reorganization intends to save more than $130 million over an unspecified time.
In a statement, Holder said:
“The Department of Justice is seeking ways to do more with less while we maintain our commitment to our critical law enforcement mission and our most important public safety priorities. These cost-saving and efficiency measures have assisted us in utilizing our limited resources in the most effective way possible. We will continue to identify additional areas where we can achieve savings and efficiencies to streamline our operations.”