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We’re Safer Post-9/11
September 8th, 2011 Posted by

The following, authored by Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and James Clapper the Director of National Intelligence, originally appeared in USA Today.

All of us who are old enough remember exactly where we were on September 11, 2001, at the moment we first learned that terrorists had taken control of commercial jetliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center in Manhattan, the Pentagon, and a field in Shanksville, Pa.

On that day, our lives, our country, and our world fundamentally changed.

Today, a decade later, we remember the loss of the nearly 3,000 innocent victims of the attacks, honor the firefighters, police, and many other first responders, who showed such courage and conviction on that tragic day, and take stock of the fundamental changes that have reshaped our country and improved security for all Americans. While there are no guarantees — and there never will be — we have accomplished much to minimize the risk that a successful terror attack like 9/11 will ever occur on American soil.

Ten years ago, our intelligence and law enforcement communities were aware of potential threats to the homeland from terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, but we lacked the focus necessary to anticipate and prevent the attack. Sharing essential information to confront this threat was impeded by long-standing cultural, legal and institutional barriers, stove-piped government organizations, and a lack of coordination and cooperation.

In the decade since 9/11, an unprecedented international partnership has emerged. Together, the United States and our allies have captured or killed most of those responsible for the events of 9/11; we continue to pursue those who remain at large; and the organization that orchestrated these attacks, while still a serious threat, has been significantly weakened.

Today, we are working together as never before to share information, tactics, and training to fight terrorists and prevent them from putting their plans into practice, while affirming our support for security, prosperity and universal rights around the globe. We owe a great debt to our men and women in uniform who are working tirelessly and effectively in many places around the world to protect us from harm.

At home, we have made equally important strides to build the capacity to protect our country and the American people in an age of rapidly evolving threats, and we have made critical enhancements to our nation’s counterterrorism capabilities.

New federal agencies like the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center, and a robust information-sharing environment, have strengthened analysis, improved terrorist watch lists and databases, and created a “need to share” culture, leading to enhanced coordination, tools, and capabilities. Indeed, the entire Intelligence Community is producing better intelligence than at any time in history.

In 2009 and 2010, as a result of investigations by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, more defendants were charged in federal court with the most serious terrorism violations than in any two-year period in our history. And the Department of Homeland Security, created in 2003 as part of the largest reorganization of the federal government since the start of the Cold War, is working daily with its federal, state, local, tribal, and private sector partners to enhance the security of communities across the country. One recent study found that between 1999 and 2009, 86 terrorist plots against Americans have been foiled.

Our nation has continued to strengthen and expand information sharing, intelligence, and public awareness efforts since 9/11. We have supported the creation of 72 state and local fusion centers, where information about threats can be gathered, analyzed, and shared among federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners. We have expanded the number of Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) around the country from 35 to 104 and increased the number of JTTF personnel from roughly 1,000 to nearly 4,500. In addition, the Justice Department has implemented a series of far-reaching legal, structural and cultural changes over the past decade, including the creation of the Department’s National Security Division and the FBI’s National Security Branch, to more effectively combat national security threats through intelligence.

We have established a new Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, which trains law enforcement across our country to recognize behaviors and indicators related to terrorism-related crime. It also standardizes how those observations are documented, analyzed and shared.

We have worked to engage the broadest possible set of partners in security by expanding the “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign, a nationwide effort originally implemented by New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to increase public awareness and the reporting of suspicious activity to the authorities.

In short, we have created a much stronger framework for managing threats to our nation. The capabilities that we have today are far greater than what existed 10 years ago, and they have helped us thwart numerous terrorist plots, from the attempt to bomb New York City subways to the foiled attacks against air cargo, Times Square, and a parade in Seattle. And these capabilities continue to contribute to the security of the American people every day.

Make no mistake: Our nation is stronger and more secure than it was on 9/11, better prepared to confront the challenges we face, and more resilient than ever before. But despite these improvements, we do not have the luxury to rest on our laurels. There are still terrorist groups around the world who wish us ill, and are plotting attacks against us.

Our success in confronting these threats in the future will depend on those who work on the frontlines, day and night, at home and abroad, to keep us safe. As important, it will depend on the American people and our collective determination to stand firm against threats, united in our resolve, free from fear, and resilient should we be attacked again.

It is Right to Fight Discrimination in Lending
September 6th, 2011 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. It originally appeared as a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal.

Mary Kissel’s “Justice’s New War Against Lenders” (op-ed, Aug. 31) accuses the Justice Department of politicized enforcement of fair lending laws and claims that the department’s fair lending enforcement practices would create another housing crisis.

Contrary to Ms. Kissel’s assertion, the Justice Department’s focus on fair lending enforcement is precisely what is needed to ensure that all qualified borrowers have equal access to fair and responsible lending, as is required by law. Common-sense consumer protection and promoting a sound climate for lending go hand in hand and are inextricably intertwined. The absence of effective consumer protections and the dearth of meaningful federal enforcement in recent years not only hurt communities across the country, but also brought about staggering losses in the industry and undermined the safety and soundness of so many lending institutions.

The suggestion that the department, as part of its settlements, is forcing banks to lower their underwriting standards and make loans to unqualified borrowers is simply wrong. Our settlement agreements repeatedly refer to extensions of credit being made to “qualified applicants” only and make clear that no provision in the agreements require banks to make an unsafe or unsound loan.

What Ms. Kissel and other critics refuse to acknowledge is that the failure of some lending institutions to offer credit to qualified borrowers—who were disqualified for loans not because of their creditworthiness but solely based on race—in minority neighborhoods on the same basis as qualified borrowers in nonminority neighborhoods, was one of the factors that contributed to the subprime lending boom and subsequent crisis. When good lenders fail to serve entire communities, it creates a vacuum ready to be filled by predatory players.

All qualified home buyers should have access to sustainable credit without being subject to illegal discrimination. The Justice Department will unapologetically continue to ensure they can do so.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
Fair Lending
September 1st, 2011 Posted by

 In April, we told you about the Civil Rights Division’s increased efforts to combat lending discrimination with the establishment of a new Fair Lending Unit, and about strengthened partnerships with other federal agencies to more effectively enforce fair lending laws. 

In recent months, these efforts have yielded a record number of fair lending enforcement actions. Since the beginning of May, the department has resolved or filed seven fair lending actions that protect individuals from unfair or discriminatory lending practices, more than the department has ever filed in such a short time period. The cases cover a variety of types of discrimination, and aim to remedy discrimination against a number of different communities.

Below are some highlights of our recent work.

Several of the cases have involved allegations of discrimination based on race or national origin:

  • On May 5, the Civil Rights Division announced a fair lending settlement with Citizens Republic Bancorp Inc. and Citizens Bank of Flint, Michigan, to resolve allegations of redlining. The division’s lawsuit, which was dismissed in light of the settlement, alleged that the bank failed to offer credit in African-American communities in the Detroit area on an equal basis with white communities. The bank agreed to open a loan production office in an African-American neighborhood in Detroit and invest approximately $3.6 million in Wayne County, Michigan.
  • On June 16, the division reached a fair lending settlement with Midwest BankCentre of St. Louis County, Missouri, to resolve allegations of redlining. The suit alleged that the bank failed to offer credit in African-American communities of the St. Louis area on an equal basis with white communities. The bank agreed to open a branch in an African-American neighborhood in St. Louis and invest approximately $1.45 million in those neighborhoods.
  • On June 17, the division settled another recent fair lending case against Nixon State Bank in Nixon, Texas, in which the lender was alleged to have charged higher prices on unsecured consumer loans made to Hispanic borrowers through the bank’s branch offices.  As part of the settlement agreement, the bank agreed to establish uniform pricing policies to ensure non-discrimination, and to pay nearly $100,000 to Hispanic victims of discrimination.

Another recent case alleges discrimination against women on maternity leave:

  • On July 5, the division filed suit against the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation (MGIC), the nation’s largest mortgage insurance company, and two of its underwriters, alleging that MGIC required women on paid maternity leave to return to work before the company would insure their mortgages. Most mortgage lenders require applicants seeking to borrow more than 80 percent of their home’s value to obtain mortgage insurance, meaning MGIC’s denials to women on maternity leave could cost those women the opportunity to obtain a home loan.

The division has also taken aggressive action to protect our members of the military against unfair lending practices.  

  • On May 26, the division announced two multi-million dollar settlements under Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) resolving allegations that servicers unlawfully foreclosed on servicemembers.  Both servicers also agreed to enact new policies and take other corrective action to ensure that in the future they fully comply with the (SCRA).
    • Bank of America/Countrywide agreed to pay a minimum of $20 million to resolve allegations that it unlawfully foreclosed on approximately 160 servicemembers. This is the largest SCRA settlement ever reached by the department.  
    • Saxon Mortgage Services Inc., a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley, will pay a minimum of $2.35 million to resolve a lawsuit alleging that Saxon foreclosed on approximately 17 servicemembers.
    • On May 26, the division also resolved allegations that Bank of America charged servicemembers interest in excess of 6 percent on credit card debt, in violation of the SCRA.

The Fair Lending Unit works closely with the banking regulatory agencies, the Federal Trade Commission, and HUD, receiving from them fair lending referrals where the agency believes there is a pattern or practice of discrimination. In 2010, the division received 49 referrals from partner agencies, more than it had received in a single year in at least 20 years.

Critics of our increased enforcement efforts believe we must choose between vigorous enforcement of fair lending laws and a strong, sound climate for lending.  This is a false choice. The truth is that fair lending enforcement is essential for a well functioning market where borrowers can access credit based on their qualifications and not be denied opportunity because of their race, national origin or gender. 

In fact, the department’s enforcement efforts support sound lending practices.  The department’s fair lending settlement agreements repeatedly refer to the extension of credit to “qualified applicants” only. The department makes clear that no provision in the agreements require banks to make any unsafe or unsound loan. 

As we recover from our nation’s housing crisis, we all have a shared interest in ensuring that communities are rebuilt in a sustainable way that allows them to flourish not only in the near term, but for generations to come.  This can only happen if all qualified homebuyers can access safe, sustainable credit, free from discrimination, on the same basis as their peers as is required by law. The Justice Department will unapologetically continue to ensure they can do so by vigorously enforcing fair lending laws.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
Improving Regulations–With Your Help
August 26th, 2011 Posted by

As part of its implementation of the Executive Order, “Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review” issued by President Obama on January 18, 2011, the Department of Justice prepared a plan for the retrospective review of its existing significant regulations to determine if any should be modified, streamlined, expanded, or repealed.

On June 1, 2011, we posted our preliminary plan on our Open Government website to solicit public input. On June 10, 2011, we published a request for comments in the Federal Register.  We reviewed the comments we received and revised the plan accordingly.

First, we refined metrics to clarify that the top priorities for retrospective review are those rules that could result in greater net benefits to the public if modified, or that could be replaced by other, less burdensome regulatory alternatives without compromising regulatory objectives. 

Second, the Department established a process for members of the public to communicate with us regarding regulations or the retrospective review process throughout the year. 

Third, the Department continued to place a strong emphasis on the balance between active rulemaking and retrospective review. 

Finally, the Department made note of the specific regulations identified as candidates for retrospective review and will consider these suggestions as part of the review process.

Going forward, the Department will establish a working group that will help institutionalize a culture of retrospective review and collaborate with rulemaking components as necessary.  Once the working group reviews the initial candidate rules identified in the plan, we will report to the public on the outcome of our assessment.  Through this process, the Department seeks to build upon our commitment to open government, and to promote evidence‐based decision‐making with respect to regulations.

Members of the public are encouraged to suggest additional candidate rules and identify why those rules should be prioritized for review under the criteria described in the plan.  Members of the public may submit these comments to olpregs@usdoj.gov year-round, or take advantage of formal comment periods announced in the Federal Register.

POSTED IN: Uncategorized  |  PERMALINK
Documenting How a Bill Becomes a Law
August 19th, 2011 Posted by

Have you ever wondered about the legislative process that led to the creation of the Department of Justice in 1870? Or how Congress changed the law concerning telemarketers in 1998?

A number of digitized legislative histories compiled by the Department of Justice library staff throughout the years on laws of interest to department have now been made available to the public on our website, justice.gov.   These legislative histories are an important roadmap into the development and passage of a law of the United States.

A “legislative history” of a law consists of documents created as a result of the legislative process during a law’s consideration, passage by Congress, and signature by the President. 

 A compiled legislative history assists in organizing the various documents that resulted in the passage of a law. Attorneys and researchers are then able to efficiently search and review the compiled legislative documents to find legal clarifications specific statutory language within the law. 

Most legislative histories may include some, or all, of the following: the U.S. Public Law; House and Senate Documents; House, Senate, and Conference Reports; House and Senate Committee Hearings; Congressional Debates (Congressional Record); related Bills; and Presidential Statements.

Our digitized legislative histories are unique and may be more comprehensive than other legislative histories on the same laws available through other libraries or research databases.

The documents within the legislative histories added to justice.gov were originally researched, comprehensively collected from Congressional publications, and bound into paper volumes by our librarians.  Until now, these multi-volume histories were made available only to department employees through the Justice Department’s main library collection.

They have been digitized and are now available to the public. We invite you to view them online.

A Commitment to Environmental Justice
August 8th, 2011 Posted by

All Americans deserve to be protected from environmental health hazards. That is why last week, the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House Council on Environmental Quality announced an agreement and signed a “Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898” (EJ MOU). As part of this agreement, federal agencies will develop environmental justice strategies and provide the public with annual progress reports on their efforts. These efforts will help protect the health of those living in communities overburdened by pollution so they can thrive.

Attorney General Holder highlighted the role this partnership will play in fighting for environmental justice stating:

“Today’s memorandum will reinforce the federal government’s commitment to the guiding principles of environmental justice – that the wealth, poverty, or race of any people should not determine the quality and health of the environment in which they live their lives. These are important steps to ensure that environmental justice is an integral part of our work.”

Environmental justice is a major priority of the Department of Justice and the EPA. Its goal is to provide all Americans – regardless of their race, ethnicity or income status – full protection under the nation’s environmental, civil rights, and health laws and to make sure that certain communities are not unfairly burdened with pollution, contaminated storm water, or toxic chemicals. Those who live in these environments face disproportionate health problems and greater obstacles to economic growth when their communities cannot attract businesses and new jobs.

The signing of the EJ MOU is the latest in a series of steps taken to elevate the environmental justice conversation and address the inequities that may be present in some communities. Last September, the reconvened Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG) met for the first time in more than a decade. In December, at the White House Environmental Justice Forum, Cabinet Secretaries and other senior Administration officials met with more than 100 environmental justice leaders from across the country to engage advocates on issues that are affecting their communities, including reducing air pollution, addressing health disparities, and capitalizing on emerging clean energy job opportunities. The EJ MOU reflects the dialogue, concerns and commitments made at the forum and other public events.

Executive Order 12898 “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations,” named federal agencies responsible for making environmental justice part of their mission and working with the other agencies on environmental justice issues as members of the EJIWG. This agreement furthers these responsibilities by broadening the reach of the working group to include participant agencies not originally named in the Executive Order.

The agreement also provides for areas of focus for federal agencies to consider as they prepare their environmental justice strategies and annual progress reports, including the impacts of climate change and commercial transportation and the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Finally, it emphasizes the need for public input into agencies’ environmental justice work. 

 The following agencies signed the EJ MOU: Environmental Protection Agency; White House Council on Environmental Quality; Department of Health and Human Services; Department of Justice; Department of Agriculture; Department of Commerce; Department of Defense; Department of Education; Department of Energy; Department of Homeland Security; Department of Housing and Urban Development; Department of Interior; Department of Labor; Department of Transportation; Department of Veterans Affairs; General Services Administration; and Small Business Administration.

More information about The Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice is available from the EPA.

 
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