Attorney General Eric Holder praised the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General for strengthening his department’s “ability to protect the safety and the sacred rights” of Americans.

Holder addressed an award ceremony for DOJ’s watchdog office as he prepares to face Washington bureau chiefs from national media outlets amid a scandal over the seizing of reporters’ records.

“Together, you’ve strengthened our ability to protect the safety and the sacred rights of our fellow citizens. And you’ve made tremendous progress in promoting efficiency, accountability and fairness at every level of the department, by improving transparency, by helping us to save precious taxpayer resources and by guarding against all forms of waste, fraud and abuse,” said Holder on Wednesday.

“Despite significant challenges, the scope of what you’ve accomplished is nothing short of extraordinary. By implementing key measures to streamline department practices, by identifying new strategies for guarding against misconduct and by providing support and assistance in sensitive personnel matters and in criminal cases, you’ve really had an enduring impact on the department’s operations.”

Holder congratulated the IG office for “carrying out” some of the “most difficult and sensitive work” in the federal government while dealing with across-the-board automatic budget cuts or “sequestration.”

“In a time of budgetary uncertainty, when sequestration has imposed untenable cuts across every federal agency, I realize that many of you have been called upon to do much more with much less. You have been asked to make sacrifices, to put in long hours and to spend time away from your friends and from your loved ones,” Holder said of the IG office.

“Now, it’s a credit to this office and to its employees that you’ve responded to these adverse circumstances not with frustration but with resolve. And despite the fact that you’re charged with carrying out some of the most difficult and sensitive work in all of government, today’s awardees have displayed an inspiring commitment to doing not merely what is easy but what is right.”

He added that through “conducting comprehensive audits, oversight investigations and reviews of policies and procedures” DOJ’s IG office has helped the department “function more effectively and more efficiently.”

Holder remains in hot water with Congress as the House Judiciary Committee investigates his role in seizing the e-mails and phone records of AP reporters and Fox News correspondent James Rosen.