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About the United States Attorneys

The government's lawyers in criminal and civil issues


Dateline: March 2007

The United States Attorneys, under the direction and supervision of the Attorney General, represent the federal government in courtrooms across the entire nation. There are 93 U.S. Attorneys based throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. One United States Attorney is assigned to each of the judicial districts, with the exception of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands where a single United States Attorney serves in both districts. Each U.S. Attorney is the chief federal law enforcement officer of the United States within his or her particular local jurisdiction.

All U.S. Attorneys are required to live in the district to which they are appointed, except that in the District of Columbia and the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, they may live within 20 miles of their district.

Salaries of U.S. Attorneys are set by the Attorney General. Depending on their experience, U.S. Attorneys can make from about $46,000 to about $150,000 a year (in 2007). Details on the current salaries and benefits of U.S. Attorneys can be found on the Web site of the Department of Justice's Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management.

What the U.S. Attorneys Do
The U.S. Attorneys represent the federal government, and thus the American people, in any trial in which the United States is a party. Under Title 28, Section 547 of the United States Code, the U.S. Attorneys have three main responsibilities:

  • prosecution of criminal cases brought by the federal government;

  • prosecution and defense of civil cases in which the United States is a party; and

  • collection of money owed to the government which cannot be collected administratively.

Criminal prosecution conducted by U.S. Attorneys includes cases involving violations of the federal criminal laws, including organized crime, drug trafficking, political corruption, tax evasion, fraud, bank robbery, and civil rights offenses. On the civil side, U.S. Attorneys spend most of their courtroom time defending government agencies against claims, and enforcing social legislation such as environmental quality and fair housing laws.

When representing the United States in court, the U.S. Attorneys are expected to represent and implement the policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Each U.S. Attorney is allowed to hire -- and fire -- Assistant U.S. Attorneys as needed to meet the case load generated in their local jurisdictions. U.S. Attorneys are allowed wide authority in controlling the personnel management, financial management, and procurement functions of their local offices.

How U.S. Attorneys are Appointed
U.S. Attorneys are appointed by the President of the United States for four year terms. Their appointments must be confirmed by a majority vote of the U.S. Senate.

By law, U.S. Attorneys are subject to removal from their posts by the President of the United States.

While most U.S. Attorneys serve full four-year terms, usually corresponding to the terms of the president who appointed them, mid-term vacancies do occur.

Prior to enactment of the Patriot Act Reauthorization Bill of 2005, on March 9, 2006, mid-term replacement U.S. Attorneys were appointed by the Attorney General to serve for 120 days, or until a permanent replacement appointed by the president could be confirmed by the Senate.

A provision of the Patriot Act Reauthorization Bill removed the 120 day limit on the terms of interim U.S. Attorneys, effectively extending their terms to the end of the president's term and byassing the U.S. Senate's confirmation process. The change effectively extended to the president the already controversial power of making recess appointments in installing U.S. Attorneys.

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