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WASHINGTON — If the Bush administration has its way, the Department of Justice would face deep cuts in its Clinton-era community grant programs for law enforcement and juvenile justice. But even as the administration has made clear its goal of fiscal austerity in the 2006 budget, the federal judiciary and the Legal Services Corp. are signaling that they don’t plan to be among the budget’s victims. The White House’s budget, released last week, would end police hirings under the COPS program, as well as slice a half-billion dollars in local law enforcement grants and $50 million from juvenile justice programs. At the DOJ, the proposed budget, unsurprisingly, is replete with new funding to combat terrorism — to the tune of half a billion dollars. But there are equally powerful offsetting cuts. The proposed $21.2 billion DOJ budget is either a 5 percent decrease over the current $22.3 billion allocated for this fiscal year, or a 2.5 percent increase, depending on whether you include more than $1 billion in funding for the victims’ crime fund, a bit of sleight-of-hand that is typical of the arcane budgeting procedure. In either case, under the administration’s proposal, the department would see much of its community-based spending wiped away. Funding for the Office of Justice Programs, which provides money to state and local agencies for everything from fighting domestic violence to treating substance abuse to providing police departments with grants for the latest crime-fighting technology, will be cut nearly in half — from about $3 billion this year to $1.7 billion in 2006. In several cases, certain popular, bipartisan programs, like the juvenile accountability block grants, used for state juvenile justice programs, are being axed entirely. “There’s certainly a question to be raised as to the federal commitment to juvenile justice funding and prevention,” says Morna Murray, the co-director for education and youth development at the Children’s Defense Fund. In response, DOJ spokesman John Nowacki says in an e-mail that the program was cut because it “lacked a measurable positive impact,” a statement juvenile advocates say is based on faulty evaluation methods. Meanwhile, both the federal courts and the Legal Services Corp., which provides legal aid to the impoverished, are watching warily and taking aggressive stances regarding their own funding proposals. The federal judiciary, which includes the Supreme Court and the country’s roughly 900 federal district and circuit court judges, the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the Federal Judicial Center, is asking Congress for $5.9 billion in fiscal 2006, $200 million more than it requested the year before and nearly a half-billion dollars more than the $5.42 billion actually appropriated by Congress for the current fiscal year. Indeed, this year’s fiscal 2005 appropriation, a 4.3 percent increase over the year before, was the bare minimum the court system needed to survive, court officials said at the time. More than 1,300 jobs had been slashed in the previous two years after several underfunded budgets in a row. Starting this year, the House of Representatives will treat the judiciary’s budget differently, shifting it to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and Housing, part of the restructuring of the entire panel by the newly minted committee chair, Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis of California. Michigan Republican Joseph Knollenberg is slated to chair the subcommittee. Because it’s a separate branch of government, the judiciary makes its budget request directly to Congress; the White House plays no role in its budget proposal. The same is true for the Legal Services Corp., the congressionally mandated, independent nonprofit agency whose 3,700 attorneys have a client base of 42.5 million people — the number of Americans whose income is less than $11,638 a year, or 125 percent of the federal poverty threshold. For fiscal 2006, the LSC is asking Congress for $363.8 million, up sharply from the $330.8 million appropriated in fiscal 2005, when the LSC requested $352.4 million. Yet unlike in the funding of the judiciary, the White House Office of Management and Budget also makes a competing suggestion for LSC funding: $318 million in fiscal 2006; $329 million in each of the previous four years. “If we took a $12 million cut, from [the current] $330 million to [the OMB's proposed] $318 million, it would be calamitous,” says LSC spokesman Eric Kleiman. “There’d be the closure of dozens of offices and hundreds of staff people. All too often, when there are federal cuts, there is simply no one to pick up the slack — given the overwhelming need.” Kleiman, however, insists he’s not complaining. “Ronald Reagan tried to zero us out,” he notes. “That’s certainly not the case with this president.” The proposed cuts in the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs were certainly not unexpected; the office has shrunk in each successive White House budget since 2002, a victim not only of increased budgetary pressures throughout the federal government, but also of a philosophical shift from the Bill Clinton to the George W. Bush White House over the role of the federal government in crime prevention. Still, the scope of the proposed cuts for fiscal 2006 was far greater than even seasoned criminal justice experts foresaw. “It’s devastating,” says a lobbyist for a midsize East Coast state who did not wish to be identified. The lobbyist says his state has received some $15 million annually in law enforcement grants over the past six or seven years; this year, that figure has dwindled to $8 million; and if the proposed Bush budget were to take effect, the number would drop to zero. Among other things, the money is used for anti-gang programs, equipment purchases, communication enhancements, drug prevention programs and daytime treatment centers for juveniles. “In the last three years, they’ve whacked $2 billion in discretionary grant money,” he adds, referring to the total amount cut from the Office of Justice Programs. In addition to the juvenile block grants, also slated for zero funding are the roughly $700 million in Justice Assistance Grants and the $300 million State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which helps states pay for the cost of jailing illegal aliens. Not surprisingly, and continuing a trend in previous budget proposals, the popular Clinton-era Justice Department program known as COPS, which at one time paid for as many as 100,000 extra police officers, has “basically been eviscerated,” says Mark O’Hara, the government affairs counsel at the National Criminal Justice Association, which represents state and local criminal justice professionals. “Naturally they want it to go away,” notes national Fraternal Order of Police Executive Director James Pasco Jr. “Every time somebody says ‘COPS,’ they say ‘Democrat.’” Of course, the president’s proposed budget, released Feb. 7, is only the first round of a lengthy nine-month process that in theory culminates by Oct. 1, when the new 2006 fiscal year begins. “To me, the budget process is like a Kabuki dance,” adds Pasco, who spent 11 years as assistant director of congressional affairs at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. “In many instances, they know damn well the money will be restored.” In fact, that is exactly what has happened with many of the most politically popular programs within the DOJ. Constituent-sensitive areas like block grants to law enforcement and money for troubled youth have all been cut in previous White House budgets, then dutifully restored by the House and Senate appropriation committees. For example, in the past few years, of the roughly $900 million in proposed cuts to state and local law enforcement grants, about $700 million to $800 million has been appropriated by Congress. The irony, notes Laurie Robinson, who served as the assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Justice Programs during the Clinton administration, is that the government wants local law enforcement to play a larger role in homeland security. Yet local law enforcement, she says, “has fewer resources now because a lot of the homeland security money is tied up at the state level and designated for very specific things. “Homeland security concerns are huge and legitimate. You can’t diminish that,” adds Robinson, who runs the University of Pennsylvania’s master’s program in criminology. “But for every terrorism event, there are thousands of day-to-day crime events to deal with — prisoners re-entering society; methamphetamine, which plagues rural areas; domestic violence; gangs — all these things affect the day-to-day lives of people in this country to an enormous degree.” Overall, the DOJ’s several law enforcement agencies are all showing increases under the Bush budget — funding for the FBI is up 11 percent, money for the Drug Enforcement Agency would rise 4 percent. And certain specialized programs are also slated, under the Bush budget, to receive additional funds: crime lab improvements to deal with the backlog of DNA testing would go from $110 million to $177 million; money for specialized drug courts would nearly double, from $40 million currently to $70 million; and money for regional substance abuse treatment centers would rise to $44 million from $25 million, says the National Criminal Justice Association’s O’Hara. Still, the stiff cuts in many longtime programs remain troubling, O’Hara says, in particular because the crime rate has been dropping. “The concern is that crime has been dropping because some of these programs have been working,” he says. “And there’s some fear from the criminal justice folks that if we take our eye off the ball, crime rates will spike again.” T.R. Goldman is a reporter with Legal Times, a Recorder affiliate based in Washington, D.C.

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