By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 6, 2006
A key Republican senator, joined by Democrats, criticized the Justice Department yesterday for proposing deep cuts in assistance to local law enforcement agencies, arguing that the reductions would hamper efforts to combat terrorism, methamphetamine trafficking and other threats.
At a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department's budget, Chairman Richard C. Shelby (Ala.) and Democratic colleagues sharply questioned Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales about an administration proposal to slash assistance to local law enforcement by more than $1 billion in fiscal 2007.
In unusually candid remarks, two key agency heads -- FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and Drug Enforcement Administration chief Karen P. Tandy -- acknowledged that the proposed cuts could limit enforcement efforts and discourage local police from offering assistance in terrorism inquiries and other federal investigations.
Shelby calculated that the administration proposal would cut aid to local police by 51 percent. "When taken in total, it is difficult for me to understand how you expect to carry out your collective missions when you have proposed a budget which cripples current services," he said.
Gonzales said the cuts were a "difficult decision" that reflected a desire to focus on the most effective uses of taxpayer money.
"A decision was made that we ought to be more focused on the priorities of this administration," Gonzales testified. "There is a lot of money going to state and locals . . . focused on specific programs that we believe are effective."
Yesterday's debate came in the aftermath of complaints from police chiefs and other law enforcement groups about the proposed cuts at Justice, which provides a significant amount of federal aid to local and state police. The International Association of Chiefs of Police and other police groups are lobbying Congress to restore the proposed cuts in a final budget. They say the reductions would mark a 10-year low in federal assistance to police as local law enforcement is being called upon to play a central role in homeland security and counterterrorism efforts.
According to the police group, the most controversial proposals include a $376 million reduction in the popular Community Oriented Policing Services program and the elimination of the $416 million Justice Assistance Grant program. The administration is also proposing to eliminate the $400 million Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program at the Department of Homeland Security.
Overall, the Justice Department's budget would decrease slightly in 2007, to about $20 billion, and would include significant increases for the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. attorneys offices.