Congressman Fred Keller introduces Federal Prisons Accountability Act
Washington, D.C. – Congressman Fred Keller (R-PA) on Friday introduced the Federal Prisons Accountability Act, legislation that would bring greater oversight and transparency to the federal Bureau of Prisons.
The Federal Prisons Accountability Act is a companion bill to bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to require that the Director of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) be confirmed by the United States Senate.
The legislation would subject the BOP Director to the same Senate confirmation process required for other top positions within the Department of Justice, like the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency.
With a $7 billion budget, more than 36,000 employees and 172,000 inmates, the BOP Director oversees a massive government agency without sufficient congressional oversight. The DOJ Inspector General’s annual report called the BOP’s increasing costs a “persisting crisis” despite a “downward trend” in the federal prison population. Yet, unlike most DOJ administrators and directors, the BOP Director is appointed by the U.S. Attorney General—not the President—without Senate confirmation.
Original co-sponsors of the legislation include: Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA), Congressman Larry Bucshon (R-IN), Congressman Randy Weber (R-TX), Congressman David McKinley (R-WV), Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO), and Congressman Ralph Abraham (R-LA).
Congressman Keller’s House version of the Federal Prisons Accountability Act comes after several failures by the BOP leadership to take proactive measures to handle COVID-19 in the federal prisons system and ensure the health and safety of federal prisons inmates and staff. There are currently more COVID-19 cases in the BOP system than in Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, Hawaii, Vermont, North Dakota, Maine, West Virginia, the Northern Marianas Islands, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
Thirty-three BOP inmates have died of COVID-19 while 1,692 inmates and 349 BOP staff have confirmed positive test results for the virus. Despite the pandemic’s impact on the BOP system, the agency has continued to move inmates between facilities across the nation, often from hot spots to areas with few confirmed cases, leading to widespread concern among local communities, members of Congress, and health care professionals.
These failures have brought to light systemic problems within the Bureau of Prisons and the need for increased transparency, accountability, and responsiveness.
On the introduction of the Federal Prisons Accountability Act, Congressman Fred Keller (R-PA) made the following statement:
“The federal Bureau of Prisons plays a critical public safety role in ensuring the very worst among us stay behind bars, but their utter lack of transparency and responsiveness to members of Congress and the public at large is appalling.
“After years of out of control spending and actions that run counter to institutional safety, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is abundantly clear that increased oversight of the BOP is long overdue. While the wardens and staff at BOP facilities have been nothing short of heroic in their service, the same cannot be said for BOP leaders in Washington.
“The Bureau of Prisons Director is responsible for overseeing tens of thousands of employees and a multi-billion-dollar budget; however, it is the only position in the Department of Justice with similar responsibility that does not need to be confirmed by the Senate.
“Making the position of BOP Director Senate confirmable will ensure that the American people have a say in this important role and that the BOP will remain responsive to their representatives in Congress. The American public expects their government to be accountable to them. It’s time we hold BOP to that basic standard.”