Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training (OPDAT)

Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training (OPDAT)


In 1991, the breakup of the former Soviet Union and the intensifying drug war in Latin America ushered in an era of far-reaching change for the world’s justice institutions. In response to these transitions, OPDAT, with funding from the State Department, began its first Resident Legal Advisor (RLA) programs for justice sector assistance in Bolivia, Colombia, Haiti, Poland, and Russia. The RLA programs assisted host countries in their development of new Codes of Criminal Procedure to replace inquisitorial systems and Soviet-era laws; helped strengthen independent judiciaries; and improved prosecutorial capacity to combat high-priority criminal activity. OPDAT has since grown to become a global force in justice sector capacity building, with a heavy emphasis on combatting terrorism and transnational crime. Today, OPDAT works in more than 50 countries, many of them fragile and dangerous, to improve their rule of law and our own national security.

OPDAT’s bilateral and multilateral assistance, including case-based mentoring, legislative advocacy, and skills development, fosters partner countries’ capacities to combat complex transnational crimes, including terrorism, money laundering and financial crimes, corruption, organized crime, cybercrime, intellectual property crime, trafficking in persons, and narco-trafficking. These programs support the United States’ national security, law enforcement, and justice policy goals by enabling countries to more effectively bring the most dangerous criminals to justice on their own, as well as building the necessary political for maximum coordination on cases of U.S. interest. They are funded through interagency agreements between OPDAT and the U.S. Departments of State and Defense.


OPDAT implements the majority of its programs in-country through Resident or Intermittent Legal Advisors (RLAs and ILAs), experienced U.S. prosecutors assigned or temporarily deployed to U.S. Embassies overseas. With the assistance of their Foreign Service National staff and in conjunction with their foreign counterparts, they assess host country criminal justice institutions and procedures; draft, review and comment on legislation and criminal enforcement policy; and provide technical assistance to host country prosecutors, judges, and other justice sector personnel working in the field.

OPDAT headquarters staff plan and implement state-specific and regional programs and workshops in countries without an RLA or ILA presence. These programs include the innovative Judicial Studies Institute which strengthens the judicial capacity throughout the Western Hemisphere, religious freedom programs that promote the protection of religious minorities, computer crime and intellectual property programs that work with partner governments to improve cyber security and the protection of private property, and strategic trade enforcement workshops that enhance the investigative and prosecutorial skills of foreign law enforcement agencies to prevent the proliferation of dangerous weapons and hazardous materials.


OPDAT focuses on long-term comprehensive, sustainable reform. It accomplishes this through the development of sound legislative frameworks based on international standards and tailored to host countries’ legal infrastructures, combined with case-based mentoring and related tools. Programs also prioritize a train-the-trainer method that creates local buy-in and sustainability through joint development and replication. OPDAT coordinates these efforts with the U.S. interagency, the international donor community, and with relevant international experts.


OPDAT enjoys unique access to some of the most experienced criminal justice experts in the nation. The Department of Justice, with over 5,500 Assistant U.S. Attorneys and over 600 Criminal Division attorneys, provides a primary source of expertise. Depending upon the needs of the host country, OPDAT also coordinates with other Department of Justice components, including the National Security Division; Civil Rights Division; Antitrust Division; Office of Justice Programs; National Advocacy Center; Federal Bureau of Prisons; ATF; DEA; FBI; and U.S. Marshals Service. In addition, OPDAT can utilize the law enforcement expertise of other federal departments, such as Treasury, and Homeland Security, as well as state and local prosecutor offices. OPDAT also coordinates with the private bar, state and federal judiciaries, and professional organizations such as the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative. Further, OPDAT works collaboratively with international organizations, nongovernmental institutions, as well as international experts.


International Operations

  • Offices in 50 countries at any given time, serving 33 bi-lateral assistance programs and 15 regional capacity building missions
  • Approximately 60 Resident and Intermittent Legal Advisors serving abroad and supported by locally employed staff

OPDAT Core Competencies

  • Criminal procedure code reform
  • Criminal justice sector institutional improvement
  • Task force development
  • Promoting the rule of law and regard for human rights
  • Capacity building of foreign prosecutors, investigators, and judges in the following areas:
    • Counterterrorism and counterterrorist financing
    • Foreign terrorist fighters (FTF)
    • Human trafficking and child exploitation
    • Organized crime
    • Anti-corruption
    • Judicial independence
    • Money laundering and asset forfeiture
    • Counter-narcotics
    • Computer crime and intellectual property protection
    • Crime Victim Assistance and Advocacy
    • Mutual Legal Assistance / Extraditions


General Information -  Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training
Faye Ehrenstamm
Director, OPDAT
OPDAT Direct Line
(202) 514-1323
Department of Justice Main switchboard
(202) 514-2000