A year ago, Attorney General Griffin B. Bell was looking for a way to abolish the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, which has poured some [WORD ILLEGIBLE] billion into fighting crime over the past decade, with what critics say is a noticeable lack of success.
Yesterday, Bell was at a Senate hearing endorsing a proposal sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), that would make changes in the much-criticized agency, but also increase its budget by 25 per cent.
Along the way, Bell admitted yesterday, with his usual candor, he ran into political reality: a coalition of members of Congress and criminal justice interest groups who promised to fight the LEAA dismantling proposed by the Carter administration.
"I found that Washington is a strange city," the attorney general explained to Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) yesterday. "You have to get along with so many different groups.
I found I couldn't sustain my position. I believe we ought to have research, statistics and revenue-sharing.
"But that won't sell. So I gave up on that," Bell said.
Instead, he joined forces with Kennedy - who seems to have become the new congressional godfather for LEAA - on a bill that would leave the much-maligned agency in place.
Bell and his aides prefer to point out that the bill would offer incentives to do away with layers of planning that bog down the program, target funds to new areas of need and set up independent offices for research and statistics.
"This bill does everything I wanted to do with LEAA except not having LEAA," Bell said during a break in the hearings.
Bell's effort to disband the agency began after he heard so many complaints about LEAA in his early months in office, he said. In June 1977, a task force he appointed recommended changes in the program. But an outpouring of comments by some 400 LEAA backers last fall showed Bell that, as one aide put it, "You can buy a lot of support with $6 billion."
Kennedy and his staff, in the meantime, had taken the lead on LEAA on Capitol Hill. Last year aides to the senator were circulating a memo that promised that no state would lose any part of its LEAA, largess under his version of a re-authorization bill.
"This is the only way politically to get congressional approval of a new favorable formula for the Northeast and larger cities - to buy off the opposition," the memo said.
With this sweetener included, the Kennedy bill has attracted both liberals and conservatives as cosponsors.
LEAA's current budget is $640 million, and the Kennedy bill envisions an increase to $825 million to carry out his plan for more aid to high-crime cities.
But Walter M. Fiederowicz, the associated deputy attorney general who is Bell's key aide on LEAA, said yesterday that it isn't likely that the administration will seek an increase in appropriations for the agency.
There are other potential roadblocks for the legislation as well. Biden and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairmen of the subcommittees that will first consider the legislation, both have been vocal critics of LEAA's performance.
Conyers is expected to introdice his own LEAA bill tomorrow, with more emphasis on funding specific projects such as juvenile delinquency and alternatives to prisons.
Biden suggested yesterday that Congress should consider Bell's original idea, abolishing LEAA. He ackocal critics of LEAA's performance.
Conyers is expected to introduce his own LEAA bill tomorrow, with more emphasis on funding specific projects such as juvenile delinquency and alternatives to prisons.
Biden suggested yesterday that Congress should consider Bell's original idea, abolishing LEAA. He acknowledged that the Kennedy bill - with the changes it proposes - probably was the best compromise position on an issue that had such powerful interest groups pushing it. But, he added, "I expect the same people will be getting the same money to do the same things."