Effects of COVID-19 at DOJ
Published: April 15, 2020
DOJ’s impact from COVID-19 strums several chords, from enhanced cyber monitoring and new enforcement task forces, to changes in prison system operations and stalled modernization projects.
- Due to COVID-19, DOJ has taken on additional law enforcement responsibilities, requiring additional resources and services to accommodate the accelerated rate of coronavirus-related crimes.
- COVID-19 is forcing DOJ operations to stall or change, with agency officials typically working in the field, at courts and in prisons to telework and/or change processes.
- The CARES Act is helping boost agency resources with funding for overtime, transportation services, medical care, PPE, cleaning/sanitation and enhanced telework capabilities.
- DOJ reports nearly $23M in COVID-19 contract spending. BOP represents 77% of those obligations due to purchases of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), masks, food products and services, and medical equipment and supplies for inmates and staff.
- Contractors should become aware of the different aspects of change DOJ is undergoing in response to COVID-19 to carve out opportunities to help the agency respond to the pandemic.
As if the COVID-19 pandemic were not damaging enough, the DOJ has had to assume additional law enforcement duties to protect the nation against those trying to take advantage of the current situation. On top of that, an agency that requires many in-person functions in the field, at courts and in prisons, must now learn to telework and become mobile as much as possible, sometimes greatly altering operations for a particular division and stalling key projects. Plus, the icing on the cake? The BOP must figure out how to keep the spread of the virus from spreading and gravely affecting inmates and staff. To do all of this, DOJ is relying on funding from the CARES Act and contractors to support additional staffing and resources to combat COVID-19 at the agency.
Added Law Enforcement Responsibilities
From robocalls making fraudulent medical offers, mobile device malware and phishing emails asking for donations, to sales of fake testing kits, prescription drug schemes and sham medical claims, and medical supplies and essential products price gouging, to increased threats against public officials and threats to infect other people – the Justice Department has its hands full with COVID-19 crimes. In response, the agency is increasing staffing and resources to respond to coronavirus-related complaints in a timely manner. So far, DOJ has set up two specific task forces in response to the pandemic – the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force and the Procurement Collusion Strike Force. The first task force will concentrate on developing “effective enforcement measures, best practices, work closely with HHS as they designate particular items and equipment, and coordinate nationwide investigation and prosecution of these illicit activities.” The latter task force is an interagency partnership between the Criminal Division, the Civil Division, the Antitrust Division, the Tax Division, and EOUSA to “combat antitrust crimes and related schemes affecting procurement, grant, and program funding.”
To help with these changes, the CARES Act allocates funding to DOJ to provide PPE, movement of law enforcement, telework and cleaning work environments to some of DOJ’s main law enforcement divisions: $20M for the FBI, $15M for DEA and $15M for USMS.
Telework Capabilities and Stalled Operations
Headquarters and local offices throughout DOJ have turned to teleworking and other strategies such as flexible scheduling to continue agency operations in an effective and safe manner. Some areas of DOJ’s processes are already prepared for telework. In fact, the agency states, “Much of our investigative work and case building can be done electronically. Indeed, much of the process that drives criminal investigations, from grand jury subpoenas to search warrants, are generated electronically and submitted to recipients via email or telephonically.” Still, some agency functions face alterations and standstills due to in-person restrictions. Aside from certain grave crimes, many pre-trial detentions are on hold, determined on a case-by-case basis. Likewise, Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) hearings at the EOIR are rescheduled. COVID-19 is also stalling modernization initiatives from moving forward. For example, the rollout of EOIR’s new electronic filing system, EOIR Court & Appeals System (ECAS) is delayed due to COVID-19.
The CARES Act provides specific funding for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the DOJ’s enterprise-wide IT office to help enhance telework capabilities. Each office will receive $3M from the stimulus package.
Prison System Changes
BOP is suspending social and legal visits, inmate movement between prisons, office staff travel and staff trainings to limit the impact of COVID-19 among its detention centers. Despite these efforts, BOP is experiencing high levels of infection at several facilities. As a result, the Attorney General authorized BOP to exercise its home confinement strategies to the extent possible, particularly at impacted centers. Meaning, inmates based on a variety of criteria, and on a case-by-case basis, may be eligible for home confinement to control prison population and avoid widespread infection among centers.
To aid the agency with these and other changes, the CARES Act provides BOP with $100M for correctional officer overtime, inmate medical care, PPE, and enhanced cleaning services.
FPDS Reported Spending
According to Deltek’s Federal Spending Analysis database for COVID-19, DOJ has reported nearly $23M in obligations related to COVID-19. The majority of the purchases include products and services to assist BOP with medical equipment and services for inmates, and to support the agency’s altered operations.
DOJ COVID-19 FPDS Report Spending by Primary Requirement
Source: Deltek, FPDS
- Clothing & Textiles: includes $7.4M in PPE, masks, sanitizer, surgical gowns, extra beds for isolation and tents for BOP and the Federal Prison Industries
- Medical & Scientific Equipment: largely for N-95 masks, respirators and other surgical masks, face shields, gloves, protective clothing and other medical supplies. Largest spending in this category done by BOP with $5.9M
- Food & Sanitary Products and Services: total spending done by BOP and the Federal Prison Industries, largely for items such as boxed meals, disposable plates and food trays, and other lockdown-type meals
- Information Technology: includes laptop and tablet purchases ($930K), telework-related software and licenses ($591K) and tokens ($103K) across DEA, JMD and BOP/Federal Prison Industries
- Professional Services: spending based on a wide range of staffing positions, Legal Assistants, Paralegals, Investigative Analysts, General Clerks, System Support Specialists, and services such as document prep, training and administrative support. Professional Services obligations span numerous DOJ offices including ATF, BOP, USMS, FBI and DOJ litigation and legal divisions.
As DOJ deals with the changes in its operations due to COVID-19, it is important for contractors to recognize that they can step in and aid the federal department by offering additional staffing, resources and products needed to keep critical missions going. Taking into consideration every aspect of these changes at the agency is crucial to determining how businesses can step in and help. For example:
- Additional staffing and call center services to assist DOJ with the influx of coronavirus-related complaints
- Extra transportation services to help with the added shuffling of inmates to home confinement sites
- Advanced technology and mobile solutions to help BOP effectively monitor inmates in home confinement
- Enhanced telework capabilities, specifically for bureaus not used to working on a remote basis as much