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October 01, 2011

Washington News Briefs

ACUS: Legislation to reauthorize the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) now awaits Senate action after being approved Sept. 22 by the Senate Judiciary Committee. H.R. 2480, which overwhelmingly passed the House by a 382-23 vote in August, would authorize nearly $9 million over three years for ACUS, an independent federal agency providing non-partisan recommendations for improving federal agency procedures. ACUS, which was terminated in 1995 after nearly 30 years, resumed full operation in April 2010 and currently is conducting more than 10 research projects and numerous studies. Topics include e-rulemaking, the effect of judicial standards in civil litigation on the work of administrative agencies, and the potential use of science advisory panels. ACUS also is encouraging agencies to utilize video hearings more fully as a means of achieving significant cost savings, as well as many other proposed administrative reforms. H.R. 2480 would limit the amount available to ACUS each year for official representation and entertainment expenses for foreign dignitaries to no more than $2,500, and the Senate committee amended the bill to require ACUS to submit to the president and Congress, within 90 days, a report on the operations, current projects, finances and employee levels. ACUS also would be required to submit an annual budget. The ABA has long supported ACUS and its resurrection, emphasizing its proven track record of success and its key role in implementing numerous important laws in the past, including the Equal Access to Justice Act, the Congressional Accountability Act, the Government in the Sunshine Act and the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act.

FATF: The ABA submitted additional comments Sept. 16 to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international body created in 1989 to develop and promote policies at the national and international levels to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. The FATF is now in the process of updating and refining its anti-money laundering and terrorist financing standards and plans to convene a public consultation meeting in early November on its Consultation Paper with the intention of adopting revised standards at its February 2012 plenary meeting. In the ABA’s comment letter to John Carlson, principal administrator for the FATF Secretariat, Kevin L. Shepherd, chair of the ABA Task Force on Gatekeeper Regulation and the Profession, echoed the association’s earlier requests that the FATF reach out and engage in an active dialogue with all stakeholders, including the ABA and other legal sector representatives. Shepherd also explained that meaningful engagement with the legal sector is particularly important not only because of its “gatekeeper” role, but also because of its role in advising both the financial institutions as well as other designated non-financial businesses and professions, including lawyers. The ABA, which has recommended ways to improve the FATF’s anti-money laundering standards, urged the entity to engage – sooner rather than later – with the legal profession on the substantive issues raised in the Consultation Paper. “Absent this engagement,” Shepherd said, “there is a likelihood that the revised standards will fail to achieve the desired goals.” He also recommended that, as a way to enhance transparency and strengthen the rationale and overall legitimacy of the consultation process, the FATF have public deliberations on the Consultation Paper with a written record of the decisions so that a legislative history exists of its choices and reasons for those choices. The ABA previously submitted related comments on the FATF’s Consultation Paper in January and June of this year.

NATIONAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE COMMISSION: The need for comprehensive review of America’s criminal justice system is clear, the ABA said in a letter this month to all senators urging them to support and cosponsor S. 306, a bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) to create a National Criminal Justice Commission. “At every stage of the criminal justice process – from the events preceding arrest to the challenges facing those reentering the community after incarceration – serious problems undermine basic tenets of fairness and equity, as well as the public’s expectations for safety,” ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman wrote in an Oct. 3 letter. “The result,” he added, “is an overburdened, expensive, and often ineffective criminal justice system.” Susman pointed out that it has been four decades since the last comprehensive study of the nation’s criminal justice system, and the “machinery” responsible for criminal justice is larger and more complex than ever with a greater overlap between federal and state law. The United States imprisons 2.3 million people – more than any other nation in the world – and an unprecedented numbers of ex-offenders face increased collateral consequences of conviction when they are released without job skills or treatment for substance abuse. The final report of the commission will make recommendations based on best practices at all levels of government. “At a time when state and federal spending for corrections and public safety programs is under intense fiscal pressures, the national commission will serve a critical need in reexamining the balance between federal and state criminal justice responsibilities and how best to direct limited federal resources,” Susman concluded.

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