The Justice Department would suffer a small decrease in spending under the Trump administration’s budget plan for the year starting October 1.
DOJ fares much better than many other federal agencies, which would lose more than 10 percent of their funds if the president had his way.
That is not likely to happen. Especially with Democrats now controlling the House, the final result from Congress later this year will not resemble what the White House sent to Capitol Hill on Monday.
Still, the budget document sets out the Trump priorities in the criminal justice arena.
The leading changes sought by the administration would include:
- Nearly $141 million more for increased cybersecurity and other national security programs.
- An additional $72.1 million for immigration enforcement and border security. Among other things DOJ wants to “improve our ability to conduct immigration hearings expeditiously and efficiently to help combat illegal immigration.”
- A nearly $300 million increase to “fight the opioid crisis and support law enforcement safety.”
- About $133 million more “to strengthen federal law enforcement’s ability to reduce violent crime.”
- An additional $350 million “for prison and detention program enhancements.” The Bureau of Prisons itself would get a slight budget decrease under the White House proposal, even though federal prisons are 19 percent over capacity.
Although these numbers may sound high, they actually are only a small fraction of the overall Justice Department annual budget of $30 billion, major components of which fund ongoing operations of the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, and lawyers who handle a wide array of prosecutions and civil litigation.
The Trump administration says it want to “streamline” many programs and achieve “notable efficiencies and savings in law enforcement, litigating, and grants programs.”
For example, the White House would eliminate the Community Oriented Policing Services program (COPS), which has been operating since the presidency of Bill Clinton in 1994, and combine some of its programs within the existing Office of Justice Programs.
DOJ says this will allow it to “centralize and strengthen the partnerships it has with its colleagues in state and local law enforcement and will help to promote community policing not only through the hiring program but also through the advancement of strategies for policing innovations and other crime-fighting techniques.”
It was not immediately clear if Congress will go along with the proposal or whether it would markedly change federal aid to law enforcement. The COPS program has been popular among legislators and law enforcement leaders as a separate program. Its backers may resist what may appear to be a plan to downgrade it.
The Trump budget puts a high priority on the Project Safe Neighborhoods program, which started under the presidency of George W. Bush in 2001.
The new proposal seeks $100 million for the project, which is run by the 94 U.S. Attorneys around the U.S. and focuses on “the eradication of illegal firearms and the interdiction of violent gang activity, with an emphasis on addressing violent crime in
areas with significant problems.”
The administration would allocate $2.4 billion for the Crime Victims Fund, which would include nearly $500 million for Violence Against Women programs and $77 million for victims of human trafficking.
Once again, the Trump administration seeks to eliminate the $25 million Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which has worked with states for many years to reduce prison populations and make other changes in sentencing and corrections practices. DOJ tried to stop the program last year but Congress has insisted on continuing it.
The final shape of the DOJ budget may not be evident until September, if then, as Congressional committees pore over the details.
The most significant change on Capitol Hill affecting the budget is that the subcommittee dealing with it now is headed by Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) after many years of Republican leadership.
The panel’s priorities have changed, as evidenced by the fact that this week it is holding a hearing on gun violence, which was not a Republican focus.
The top Republican on the committee is Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, a lawyer and former municipal judge.
How the final DOJ budget will play out in negotiations with the Senate, which still has a Republican majority, remains to be seen.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.