U.S. Department of Justice Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Various agencies within the Justice Department specialize in the investigation and prosecution of white-collar and corporate crime on the federal level.

The Judiciary Act of 1789Judiciary Act of 1789 created the Office of the Attorney General, a part-time position for an individual who was appointed by the president. The attorney general was charged with prosecuting federal suits and advising the president on legal matters. The role and responsibilities of the office grew, and assistants were hired. The caseload expanded after the U.S. Civil War, requiring the hiring of private attorneys. Partly in response to this, Congress passed an act to establish the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 1870. The department officially began operating on July 1.Justice, U.S. Department of


The Department of Justice is responsible for various duties assigned to the department by the executive branch of the federal government. The department is directed by the U.S. attorney general, who is a full member of the president’s executive cabinet. Major duties of the department include maintaining the entire system of federal prisons, enforcing all immigration laws and processing new applications, investigating and prosecuting all federal laws, and representing the United States in all legal matters, including cases that may be tried in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. As of 2008, the department employed close to 115,000 people in the United States and abroad, and had an annual operating budget of close to $44 billion.

Law-Enforcement Agencies

Most of the law-enforcement agencies responsible for the investigation of possible violations of federal statutes are housed within the Justice Department. These agencies include the United States Marshals ServiceUnited States Marshals Service; Drug Enforcement AdministrationDrug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Bureau ofBureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); and the Federal Bureau of InvestigationFederal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Of these four agencies, the FBI conducts the most white-collar and corporate crime investigations for the Department of Justice. The FBI has a white-collar crime division that specializes in crimes committed by corporate officers and employees of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations and businesses. FBI investigators played a major role in the investigation and subsequent prosecution of many of the top officials involved in well-known corporate scandals at Enron Corporation, WorldCom, Adelphia Communications, Rite Aid, and Tyco International.

After a crime has been investigated and a case has been built, it is handed over to one of the divisions within the Office of the Attorney General for prosecution. The attorney general is supported by numerous deputy and associate attorneys general throughout the United States. Each state has one or more associate or assistant attorneys general who are responsible for all prosecutions of both civil and criminal cases involving federal legislation. The major legal divisions that prosecute violations of federal law are antitrust, civil, criminal, civil rights, environment and natural resources, justice management, tax, and national security. The Justice Department legal divisions–especially the antitrust, civil, criminal, and environmental and natural resources divisions–have started to increase the number of prosecutions of corporate white-collar offenders.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons also falls under the auspices of the Department of Justice. Once a person has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison by the federal court system, that person is housed in one of the more than one hundred federal prisons throughout the United States. Those who commit white-collar offenses tend to be housed in lower-security prison camps, away from inmates sentenced for more violent offenses.

Through its Office of Justice Programs, the Justice Department both conducts and sponsors research projects dealing with crime and numerous types of legal matters. Since their start during the mid-1960’s, these projects have been an effective learning tool in regards to various types of crime, crime patterns, crime prevention techniques, and criminal behavior in general. The Department of Justice also offers services for victims of federal crimes through the Office for Victims of Crime.

Further Reading
  • Dunn, Lynne. The Department of Justice. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. Covers the history of the Department of Justice and describes the structure and function of each of the operating agencies and offices within the department.
  • Nossen, Richard A. The Investigation of White-Collar Crime: A Manual for Law Enforcement Agencies. New York: Books for Business, 2002. The go-to manual for law-enforcement agencies of all levels to investigate various forms of business-related crimes.
  • Rosenberg, Morton. Congressional Investigations of the Department of Justice, 1920-2007: History, Law, and Practice. New York: Nova Science, 2008. This book chronicles the dark side of the Justice Department and the various scandals that have plagued this department since its inception.
  • U.S. Department of Justice. U.S. Department of Justice Manual. 2d ed. Gaithersburg, Md.: Aspen Law and Business, 1999. Gives a detailed description of the roles and responsibilities of the major divisions and agencies within the Justice Department.
  • U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. Antitrust Enforcement and Intellectual Property Rights: Promoting Innovation and Competition. Washington, D.C.: Author, 2007. Discusses how enforcement of antitrust laws promotes capitalistic ideas.

Antitrust legislation

Business crimes

Enron bankruptcy

HealthSouth scandal

Identity theft

Organized crime

Ponzi schemes

Tyco International scandal

WorldCom bankruptcy

Categories: History