Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training (OPDAT)

Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training (OPDAT)

OPDAT Niger Banner
OPDAT RLA to Niger explains a crime scene evidence exploitation exercise.


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 to improve their rule of law and our own national security. 

OPDAT’s programs are part of the Department of Justice’s two-pronged law enforcement strategy: first, an operational prong, targeting transnational criminal organizations; and second, a capacity-building prong, designed to increase the ability of our foreign counterparts to investigate and prosecute these criminal groups before their criminal activities reach the United States. These two prongs are mutually reinforcing: the partnerships and skills we build through our capacity-building efforts—  development of legislative frameworks, case-based mentoring, and a train-the-trainer approach to instruction— greatly strengthen our vital operational work.  OPDAT coordinates these efforts with the U.S. interagency, the international donor community, and with relevant international experts.


OPDAT implements the majority of its programs in-country through Resident or Intermittent Legal Advisors (RLAs and ILAs), experienced U.S. prosecutors assigned 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 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 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; ICITAP; 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.

Faye S. Ehrenstamm
Director, OPDAT
Department of Justice Main switchboard
(202) 514-2000

OPDAT at a Glance

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

  • Justice sector reform
  • Task force development
  • Rule of law
  • Human rights


  • Counterterrorism
  • Human trafficking
  • Organized crime
  • Anti-corruption
  • Judicial independence
  • Money laundering and asset forfeiture
  • Counter-narcotics
  • Computer crime and intellectual property protection
  • Victim Assistance 
  • Mutual Legal Assistance / Extraditions