U.S. Rep. Fred Keller proposed a bill today to bring more oversight and transparency to the Bureau of Prisons by requiring the director to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The Federal Prisons Accountability Act is a companion bill to bipartisan legislation introduced in October by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposing the BOP director be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Co-sponsors of the bill include Republican Congressmen Glenn Thompson , of Pennsylvania; Larry Bucshon, of Indiana; Randy Weber, of Texas; David McKinley, of West Virginia; Doug Lamborn, of Colorado and Ralph Abraham, of Louisiana.
"The American public expects their government to be accountable to them. It’s time we hold BOP to that basic standard," Keller said Friday.
The BOP director is appointed by the U.S. Attorney General and not subjected to the same Senate confirmation process as other top Department of Justice positions despite overseeing a budget of $7 billion, more than 36,000 employees and 172,000 inmates "without sufficient congressional oversight," Keller said.
If the bill is passed, BOP Director Michael Carjaval would have to step down within three months.
Keller has been critical of Carjaval's handling of inmate transfers during the coronavirus pandemic, including the movement of inmates from COVID-19 hotspots like New York City to the U.S. Penitentiary at Lewisburg and Allenwood in Union County.
Thirty-three BOP inmates have died of COVID-19 while 1,692 inmates and 349 BOP staff, including two employees at Allenwood, have confirmed positive test results for the virus as of Thursday, according to the agency's website.
Andy Kline, president of Local 487 at the Lewisburg prison, said attempts have been made for years to bring more transparency to the federal agency to no avail.
"If (Keller) can gain enough support from both sides of the aisle anything is possible," he said. "No agency in this great land should be able to operate for decades with little to no oversight."
Shane Fausey, president of the National Council of Prison Locals, called the proposed legislation vital and long overdue.
Despite oversight hearings by Congress, the BOP has failed to respond to questions, he said, opting instead to change leadership and "plunging the agency into more uncertainty and a loss of continuity. To be successful, Congress must couple their oversight efforts with accountability of the decision-makers in our government agencies. Oversight and accountability is essential for any government agency to effectively and efficiently serve the American people."
The coronavirus pandemic exposed what Keller called an "appalling" lack of responsiveness and transparency by the agency to Congress and the public.
“After years of out of control spending and actions that run counter to institutional safety, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is abundantly clear that increased oversight of the BOP is long overdue," he said. "While the wardens and staff at BOP facilities have been nothing short of heroic in their service, the same cannot be said for BOP leaders in Washington."