A series of laws and presidential directives that go back to the creation of the Justice Department in 1870 have solidified and augmented the responsibility of the attorney general to coordinate the law enforcement efforts of the federal government.

With the steady expansion of federal criminal law and the growth of agencies to enforce those laws, this responsibility has become a weighty one.

There are now more than 3,000 criminal statutes on the federal books. Since 1980, the number of federal prosecutors to enforce them has more than doubled. In fiscal 1998, the latest year for which data are available, federal prosecutors formally charged 82,071 individuals with criminal violations, out of 132,772 cases considered for prosecution.

The FBI is larger than ever, with 27,655 employees. On a per-capita basis, it has more working agents than it did during World War II, the Cold War or during the anti-war demonstrations and civil rights protests of the Vietnam era.

The steady growth in federal criminal investigations has continued during the Clinton years. In fiscal 1992, the U.S. government employed 66,898 criminal investigators, some of whom are within the departments of Treasury, Defense and Energy, which also have investigative responsibilities; in 1998, there were 80,917. During the same period, the overall number of government workers dropped from about 2.2 million to 1.8 million.

The staffing changes have not been uniform. At the Immigration and Naturalization Service, for example, the number of full-time employees jumped from 17,368 in 1992 to 29,420 in 1998. Meanwhile, at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the number of criminal investigators fell from 2,072 to 1,779, a 14 percent decline.

Sources: Analysis of data from the Justice Department, the FBI and the Office of Personnel Management by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).