Attorney General William French Smith says the administration is prepared to launch a "vigorous" war on violent crime, but he warns that the battles will have to be conducted without any additional federal funding.
Outlining his proposals before the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on criminal law yesterday, Smith ran into skeptical questioning on how he could cut budgets for the law enforcement agencies and still expect them to step up the war on crime.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) charged that while the government is talking about greater efforts against organized crime and drug traffickers, the "budgeteers" are cutting budgets of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. attorneys, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Coast Guard.
Biden predicted that without new funds, there will not be enough manpower in federal agencies to benefit from the changes in the criminal laws that the administration is seeking from Congress.
"In any organization," Smith replied, "there are always ways of doing things better, with the same money, or even with less. We're in the process of finding out how we can . . . But if we reach the point where we're talking about cutting into muscle, I'm sure the president will be well aware of it."
"I truly believe he is cutting muscle," Biden said. "You're not only cutting muscle, but bone," Biden said.
Biden, noting that the president is likely to cut even more in future years, criticized an administration plan to add to the burden of the U.S. attorneys by ordering them to set up coordinatng committees with state and local law enforcement organizations and to begin a more cooperative approach to prosecutions.
The Reagan plan envisions a closer working relationship between federal and local authorities and abandonment of "an elitist approach" that Smith said U.S. attorneys and federal law enforcement officers have taken in the past. "We must reverse the trend in recent years toward federal law enforcement officials deciding their own priorities without fully consulting state and local officials," he said.
Biden noted that the offices of the attorneys general are already so overburdened that in 1979 nearly 60 percent of the cases that went before the U.S. attorneys were dropped because "they just don't have the time."
Smith appeared before the committee to present the administration's legislative proposals for reducing violent crime.
Among the more important provisions are a federal death penalty law; mandatory prison sentences for anyone who uses a gun in committing a crime; making murder-for-hire and large-scale arson federal crimes; a change in the law to allow information obtained by the Internal Revenue Service--now considered private--to be used to fight organized crime; tightening of bail procedures; easing or elimination of the exclusionary rule under which evidence gathered by policemen who make technical errors is thrown out during the prosecution of criminals.
A special attorney general's task force on violent crime recommended two months ago that $2 billion be spent to help states and communities build new prisons to relieve current overcrowding. But Smith said that he does not have $2 billion to give away. Instead, he said the department has set up a program to give the states abandoned or unused government facilities to convert into prisons.