Attorney General William French Smith asked a Senate Appropriations subcommittee yesterday for an additional $130 million to pay for the administration's new war on drugs and organized crime, but he met skepticism from senators who called it just "a drop in the bucket."
"We're way behind the eight ball in crime," said Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), who reminded Smith of efforts by the Reagan administration last year to cut the budgets of law enforcement agencies.
"Administration after administration yells law and order and then promptly proceeds to whack away at the Justice Department budget," said Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.), who supports the task force proposal.
Smith was accompanied by FBI Director William H. Webster and Francis (Bud) Mullen, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Hollings said he supports Smith's proposal to create 12 new regional drug and organized crime task forces, but he reminded Smith that the committee was assured last year that the Justice Department would not be damaged by the administration's proposed cuts of 6 percent at the FBI and 12 percent at DEA.
"Judge Webster comes up here, and his eyes are saying 'yes, yes, yes,' and his mouth is saying 'no, no, no,' " Hollings said. Webster laughed, but did not comment. Smith later convinced the Office of Management and Budget to restore those cuts.
Hollings also charged that the number of employes in the agencies taking part in the task forces -- including the FBI, DEA, the Coast Guard, the U.S. Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and the Internal Revenue Service--has dropped by 19,609 since Reagan took office.
"I don't mind playing catch up. . . . We've got to build back law enforcement to where it was just the year before last . . . . We really are short-handed," he said.
Smith said the FBI and other agencies have made better use of existing investigative resources while absorbing budget cuts.
"We cannot just assume that our agency is infallible," Smith said. "I think it's good that in 1981 we were squeezed . . . it made us look at how we could do better with what we had. . . . We have made substantial improvements in law enforcement without spending a dime."
The new anti-crime initiative -- to be modeled after the drug task force now operating in south Florida--was announced by Reagan Oct. 14 in a speech at the Justice Department.
Because of previous reluctance by the administration to ask Congress for additional money for anything, Smith said, "I'm especially pleased to be testifying in an uncharacteristic role -- that of a Cabinet secretary in the Reagan administration seeking an additional $130 million for the remainder of 1983."
OMB has insisted that money be subtracted from some other program before it can be assigned to the task forces, but when Weicker said, "My understanding is that the administration is willing to breach the budget ceiling to accommodate this request," Smith nodded affirmatively.