Later this week, the Obama administration will get its first taste of life under the new Republican-led House of Representatives, and few government agencies will make a more attractive target for GOP oversight than the Justice Department, which handles sensitive issues like civil rights and national security.

Conservative lawmakers in the late 1990s issued a flurry of subpoenas to the department. They second-guessed decisions in federal corruption cases and highlighted mistakes by law enforcement agents at Waco and Ruby Ridge.

“In a sadly partisan and charged environment, very few opportunities to make the other party look bad go without waste,” Raben said.

“We’re going to give the administration every opportunity to cooperate,” Smith said. “And when we have hearings, I think they’ll supply the witnesses; they’ll give us the answers that we want. It’s only when the administration is not cooperating that you get into serious investigations or issuing subpoenas.”

“You know, we have a first-class facility there,” Smith said. “I’ve been to Guantanamo. We’ve spent millions of dollars on it. That is the exact right place to house terrorists, as long as the war on terrorism continues.”

Other areas, such as the effectiveness of law enforcement on the Southwest border, lighter prison sentences in drug cases, and the Justice Department’s legal challenge to Arizona’s tough anti-immigrant law may draw Smith’s fire, too.

“There have been a number of social occasions where we’ve had an opportunity to get together,” Holder said. “At the White House, a Redskins game, I had him over for lunch I guess a couple of weeks or so ago.”

The Justice Department will also face oversight by three other important House committees, some led by fierce critics of the Obama administration’s national security policies.