The position of Attorney General was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789 as a one-person, part-time position. However, the workload quickly became too much for one person. For a time, private attorneys were retained to assist the Attorney General. In June 1870, Congress enacted a law entitled “An Act to Establish the Department of Justice,” with the Attorney General as head of the new executive department. This Act gave the Attorney General direction and control of U.S. Attorneys and all other counsel employed on behalf of the United States.
The mission of the Office of the Attorney General is to supervise and direct the administration and operation of the 40 components comprising the Department of Justice.
The principal duties of the Attorney General are to:
- Represent the United States in legal matters.
- Supervise and direct the administration and operation of the offices, boards, divisions, and bureaus that comprise the Department.
- Furnish advice and opinions, formal and informal, on legal matters to the President and the Cabinet and to the heads of the executive departments and agencies of the government, as provided by law.
- Make recommendations to the President concerning appointments to federal judicial positions and to positions within the Department, including U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Marshals.
- Represent or supervise the representation of the United States Government in the Supreme Court of the United States and all other courts, foreign and domestic, in which the United States is a party or has an interest as may be deemed appropriate.
- Perform or supervise the performance of other duties required by statute or Executive Order.
On May 24, 1950, Attorney General J. Howard McGrath created the Office of the Deputy Attorney General (ODAG). The Deputy Attorney, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, is the Department's second-ranking official and functions as a Chief Operating Officer; 24 components and 93 U.S. Attorneys report directly to the Deputy. Thirteen additional components report to the Deputy through the Associate Attorney General. On a daily basis, the Deputy decides a broad range of legal, policy and operational issues.
The mission of the ODAG is to advise and assist the Attorney General in formulating and implementing Department policies and programs and in providing overall supervision and direction to all organizational units of the Department.
The major functions of the DAG are to:
- Exercise all the power and authority of the Attorney General unless any such power or authority is required by law to be exercised by the Attorney General personally, or has been specifically delegated exclusively to another Department official.
- Represent the Department at White House coordination meetings of the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council, and maintain staff to address related Department of Justice policy.
- Act on behalf of the Attorney General for purposes of authorizing searches and electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and Executive Order 12333 on Intelligence.
- Review and recommend to the Attorney General whether to seek or decline to seek the death penalty in specific cases.
- Act as initial contact with the White House on pending criminal matters.
- Recommend to the White House, after consultation with the Office of the Pardon Attorney, whether the President should grant specific petitions of pardon or commutation of sentence.
- Be responsible for all Department attorney personnel matters, including final determinations employment, separation, and discipline (except for GS-15 and below attorney matters which have been delegated to the Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management).
- Lead the Department’s response to civil disturbances and terrorism.
- Oversee budget matters as well as certify to Congress the cost-effectiveness of Department investments in information technology.
- Set enforcement priorities, in consultation with the Attorney General, to address key priorities.
- Manage high-priority program offices that reside within ODAG, e.g, Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, Privacy and Civil Liberties Office, the Faith Based and Community Initiatives Task Force, and the Iraq Rule of Law program. The ODAG also shares with the Associate Attorney General oversight responsibility for the Office of Tribal Justice.
- Perform such other activities and functions as may be assigned from time to time by the Attorney General.
The Office of the Associate Attorney General (OASG) was created by Attorney General Order No. 699-77 on March 10, 1977. The Associate Attorney General, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, is the Department’s third-ranking official. The ASG is a principal member of the Attorney General’s senior management team.
The major functions of the ASG are to:
- Advise and assist the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General on the formulation and implementation of Department of Justice policies and programs.
- Set enforcement priorities in consultation with the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General.
- Supervise the work of five large litigating components – the Civil, Civil Rights, Antitrust, Tax, and Environment and Natural Resources Divisions – and, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General, devise policies and protocol relating to the Department’s civil enforcement program.
- Act as an initial contact with the White House on pending civil matters.
- Supervise the Department’s grant-making components – the Office of Justice Programs, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, and the Office on Violence Against Women.
- Oversee the Community Relations Service, the Executive Office for United States Trustees, and the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. Serve as the Department’s Chief Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Officer, formulating Administration-wide FOIA policy and guidance through oversight of the Department’s Office of Information Policy.
- Serve as co-chair of the Regulatory Reform Task Force; serve as co-chair of the White House Task Force on Puerto Rico; and serve as co-Vice Chair of the Religious Liberty Task Force.
- Perform other duties as assigned from time to time by the Attorney General. These duties have included leading the Department’s regulatory reform efforts; supervising the Service members and Veterans Initiative; assisting vulnerable communities, including tribal communities; assisting with and overseeing Department efforts to tackle the opioid epidemic; and supervising critical fraud enforcement efforts, including those targeting the elderly and the most vulnerable in our society.