The Justice Department announced plans yesterday to close the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration's 10 regional offices -- a step that will eliminate roughly 200 jobs from the agency that overseas anti-crime grants to the states.
Despite denials by department officials, the move was widely interpreted in law enforcement circles as a first step toward loosening Leaa's control over the federal government's crime-fighting grants.
A special task force that has been studying LEAA's operations at the behest of Attorney General Griffin B. Bell reportedly is preparing to recommend that state and local governments have greater discretion in spending federal anti-crime funds.
Since it began operating in 1969, LEAA has distributed almost $6 billion to the states for research and support of local anti-crime programs. Its budget for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 is $753 million, or 32 per cent of the total appropriation for Justice Department activities.
Throughout its history, LEAA has been under fire for allegedly wasting money on poorly conceived and ineffective projects. It also has been criticized for maintaining an unwieldly bureaucracy whose attempts to maintain nationwide standards and objectives in the use of grant money only cause red tape and delay.
Bell and others in the Carter administration reportedly have concluded that the drive for national standards and goals cannot be implemented successfully. Their thinking is understood to lean toward the idea that this approach -- and the accompanying bureaucracy -- should be abandoned in favor or a revenue-sharing system that would give greater leeway to the recipient states.
In announcing yesterday's move, Deputy Attorney General Peter F. Flaherty insisted, "This is not part of the overall LEAA reorganization study now under way." He added, though, that the move was being made as "an essential step toward streamlining delivery" of LEAA funds by cutting red tape and reducing delays.
The offices to be closed are in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, Dallas, Seattle and San Francisco.
Flaherty said that they jointly account for 335 of LEAA's 790 employees. He added that approximately 200 positions would be eliminated by the closings at an estimated annual saving of $3 million.
In line with President Carter's pledge that no one would be fired as the result of governmental reorganization, Flaherty said that those whose jobs are eliminated would be offered positions at LEAA headquarters in Washington or absorbed into other parts of the Justice Department.
In addition, he said, LEAA regional audit offices in Atlanta, Sacramento, Denver and Chicago will be kept in operation. These offices, Flaherty said, will assume some of the liaison and planning functions of the offices being shut down; he estimated that they will absorb approximately 135 of those officials displaced by the closings.