President Reagan will ask Congress next week to approve $130 million in funds for his new crackdown on drug trafficking by transferring the money from other government programs.
Edwin L. Dale Jr., a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, said yesterday that most of the work on this budget amendment has been completed and that it will be submitted for Reagan's approval when he returns from California on Monday. Congress also returns Monday from its election recess.
In addition, an administration official said Reagan will ask for $25 million for the narcotics task force that has been operating in southern Florida since early this year.
Reagan announced Oct. 14 that he planned to deploy 12 regional task forces around the country, modeled after the one in Florida, with 1,200 new federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors to fight organized crime and drug trafficking.
At that time, administration officials said they expected start-up costs would be between $150 million and $200 million. Since then, there has been serious internal bickering over where that money should come from.
Attorney General William French Smith has insisted that it would be counterproductive to take the funds from the Justice Department budget or from other law enforcement activities.
But OMB was adamant that the administration could not ask for new money and still hope to keep Congress in line on proposed budget cuts in other areas. OMB has said the task force funding must be offset by cuts in the appropriations bill that includes the Justice, Commerce and State departments, as well as the federal judiciary.
The reluctance to commit new funds for the program has caused some skepticism in Congress about the administration's commitment to fighting crime. For example, critics point out that while Reagan refuses to ask for new money for law enforcement, he recently sent Congress a budget amendment seeking $44 million in new funds for the U.S. Information Agency and the Board for International Broadcasting.
Congressional sources say there is bipartisan support for the task force idea, but some members are worried about which programs OMB might cut to offset funding for the task forces.
The appropriations bill for the Justice Department contains funds for several programs that Reagan had tried to abolish, including $241 million for the Legal Services Corp. and $70 million in grants for juvenile justice programs. However, a federal official said that because Reagan's original budget did not include money for these items, the administration cannot now attempt to cut these funds.
Dale said that the amendment, when sent to Congress, may not actually ask for cutbacks in other programs. He said the administration may count previous cuts made by Congress in the proposed budget as offsets, an accounting maneuver that some in Congress may criticize.
Although the administration then could technically claim it did not break its own budget limit, one government official asked yesterday, "Is that really a cut? When Congress cuts the program and you didn't ask them to restore the money ? That's when it ends up looking like a shell game."
Stanley E. Morris, associate deputy attorney general, said the administration is committed to coming up with the offsets to "show we can do it without breaking the bank." But he added that it is unlikely the entire amount can be offset.
The task forces, which will include personnel from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Customs Service and other agencies, are expected to be organized beginning in early January and to be in place by next summer or fall.