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With lucrative retirement bills pending in the House and Senate, rank-and-file federal prosecutors from across the country descended on Washington in June for four days of congressional arm-twisting. “Lobby Days,” as it was dubbed by the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, or NAAUSA, began June 16 and ended June 19. The goal: to secure recognition of the nation’s 4,900 Assistant U.S. attorneys as “law enforcement officers” for retirement purposes. LEOs, as they’re known, are eligible to retire earlier and with a lot more money than career federal prosecutors. So for the fourth time in four years, association activists were back on Capitol Hill lobbying in support of legislation that would bring them under the retirement umbrella now enjoyed by FBI and DEA agents and others, including federal probation officers. To make it so, the association reserved 25 rooms for its ad hoc lobbying team at the historic Phoenix Park Hotel just two blocks from the Capitol. The cost of travel, rooms, and meals was paid by the NAAUSA. Prosecutors were in D.C. on personal time. Among the 27 prosecutors on this year’s lobbying team were three veteran Assistant U.S. Attorneys from the District of Columbia: Linda McKinney, who joined the office in 1990 and works in the Asset Forfeiture Unit; Kathleen Brandon, who joined the office in 1986 and works in the D.C. Superior Court Division; and Patricia Riley, who joined the office in 1984 and serves as special counsel to U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard Jr. “Assistant U.S. Attorneys have experienced everything an agent might encounter,” says Randy Hummel, a 13-year veteran in the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Florida who joined the lobby effort. “That includes danger. I’ve had friends who’ve been under 24-hour marshals’ protection because of threats.” Among those whom NAAUSA lobbyists planned to meet with: Attorney General John Ashcroft; Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and former Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt.; and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., a ranking member of the House Committee on Government Reform. Leahy sponsored the Senate version of the bill, S. 640, entitled the Federal Prosecutors Retirement Benefit Equity Act of 2003. Hatch is a co-sponsor. Ros-Lehtinen, married to former Miami U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen, introduced the House version, H.R. 2260, on May 22. Both versions of the bill would amend the U.S. Code to include federal prosecutors within the definition of a law enforcement officer. Ros-Lehtinen says she became aware of the problem because of her husband’s past efforts to improve the retirement lot of his line prosecutors. She sees the issue as one of fairness and good government. “From the time that an individual first enters the federal criminal justice system until the time that individual leaves, the only criminal justice personnel they come into contact with, besides the federal judge who sentences them, who are not afforded ‘law enforcement officer’ status for retirement purposes are the AUSAs who prosecute them,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a recent letter to House colleagues. “The retirement package that this legislation creates will help recruit the best individuals for the job and greatly assist the Justice Department in retaining the seasoned prosecutors that it takes years and numerous resources to train, which in the end will be to the taxpayer’s benefit.” How big is the retirement gap between law enforcement officers and AUSAs? The prosecutors’ association uses this comparison: “An AUSA with 20 years of service, a high-three years of pay of $75,000, can retire at age 56 with an annuity of about $14,000 a year. An agent with the same high-three years of pay can retire at age 50 with 20 years of service and receive an annuity of $39,000 a year.” The annual salary for first-year federal prosecutors is $43,000. Their pay is capped at approximately $134,000. To change the disparity, the NAAUSA reported spending more than $40,000 last year to lobby Congress. About the same amount is being spent this year, according to William Shockley, a federal prosecutor in San Francisco and an officer of the NAAUSA. Shockley, an AUSA in Miami from 1986 to 1990, is upbeat about the chances for passage — as he was last year. This time, though, Shockley believes a change in the way the proposed new retirement benefits would be funded holds the key to success in a time of tight budgets. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the five-year cost of giving federal prosecutors enhanced law enforcement retirement benefits at $655 million. But that was before it was found that existing law requires changes in the formula for retirement for any class of federal employees to be paid over 30 years, not all at once, Shockley says. Amortizing the government’s contribution over 30 years “dramatically” reduces the initial costs to “$50 [million] or $60 million,” says Shockley. So far, there are 18 co-sponsors of the House version, including Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. Three of the 18 House sponsors signed on last week. Two senators, Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California and Ron Wyden of Oregon, also signed on as co-sponsors last week. Seven senators have now declared support for the bill.

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