THE PRESIDENT'S budget proposals would push the Justice Department's budget up 15 percent to well over $3 billion for the first time. The figure includes a 28 percent increase, pushing the FBI over the billion dollar mark, also a first. That's right, a billion dollars. According to reports, Attorney General William French Smith fared well with OMB by successfully characterizing much of the Justice Department as a "domestic defense" department. The comparison has much merit -- as do most of the increases.
Two of the administration's three priorities in this area are quite sound: drug-related crime and new federal prison capacity. The third area, a $175 million investment in computers and other new technology, deserves especially close scrutiny by Congress. With the tremendous pressure to cut discretionary domestic spending, is this the year to be pressing ahead on these fronts?
For drugs and organized crime, the proposed total effort by Justice and Treasury amounts to roughly $185 million and over 1,200 investigators and prosecutors. These are substantial increments, even over the president's earlier announcements. The FBI, for example, would grow by 800 new positions, including the first significant expansion of the field agent staff since 1972. At 20,000 strong, the FBI would be larger than the entire Department of Labor, twice the size of EPA, and almost as large as the State Department. A real assault on organized crime and drugs takes troops, so the increases are necessary.
Something else to applaud here is the sense one gets that many of the budget pieces fit together. New prosecutors will be there to process the bad guys. And the extra $106 million for prisons is critical because the federal system is already 21 percent over capacity and a successful effort to combat the illegal drug world will create still more demand. The director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a 13-year veteran, says it's the first time in his experience there has been such thorough coordination of budget plans. This mirrors the recent improvements in cooperation among the agencies and departments combatting crime.
Of course, there are some odd things in there too. Such as a new $90 million criminal justice grant program, which subsumes juvenile justice funds and is supposed to encourage local officials to try innovations that have already proven successful elsewhere -- innovations they are not supposed to be willing to try without federal funds, presumably. On the whole, however, the administration is demonstrating that it plans to fight crime with more than coordinating committees.