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Faced with a sweeping mandate to combat terrorism after the events of Sept. 11, the Justice Department has since struggled to get its house in order. It’s about to get more help than it wants. Even as the department goes forward with its own restructuring plan, Congress is poised to force Justice to alter itself in an even more radical fashion. A provision in the Justice Department’s budget bill for the coming fiscal year would require the department to install a deputy attorney general — an official who would answer only to Attorney General John Ashcroft — to be exclusively in charge of counterterrorism. The provision, which Justice officials did not expect to survive the final markup of the budget bill, emerged intact after a House and Senate conference committee approved the bill late last week. “We gave them a chance to do it themselves and they didn’t,” a Senate Republican staffer said after the bill was approved. The budget bill is expected to go to the House and Senate floors for routine approval this week and then to the White House for the president’s signature. The bill gives the Justice Department a slight reprieve. It sets a deadline of next June for the DOJ to establish the new deputy attorney general post. If the department has not done so by then, Congress will create the post itself under the terms of the legislation. The provision is the brainchild of Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the ranking minority member of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department’s budget. It was included in a modified form in a Senate version of Justice’s budget that was passed unanimously by the Senate in early October. That version includes an outlay of $23 million for the new office’s budget. “This bill carries [counterterrorism efforts] forward in a very aggressive way,” Gregg said at the conference committee meeting Nov. 8. The Justice Department opposed the measure, saying, in effect, that it can run its own shop. And it already has one deputy attorney general: Larry Thompson, a former U.S. Attorney in Atlanta, the second most powerful official in the department. Traditionally, the deputy attorney general’s job carries an overwhelming amount of ministerial responsibility. While the attorney general is largely free to concern himself with high-profile, pressing matters, the deputy must monitor the day-to-day operations of the bulk of the Justice Department’s components, including the Criminal Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That job description also includes counterterrorism efforts, which are handled out of the Criminal Division. But the Gregg proposal would shift those responsibilities to the new deputy, who would exist principally outside of the DOJ’s vertical management structure. The new official would ostensibly oversee the FBI as it reshapes itself into primarily a counterterrorism agency. Gregg has cited the need for the department to coordinate its anti-terrorism efforts at the highest level, and his plan would give the new deputy attorney general broad authority to do so. The deputy would have to be confirmed by a Senate hungry for a leading role in the war on terrorism — a prospect that the new Director of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, never had to face. While Justice officially opposed the Gregg measure, there is a growing recognition within the department that such an office might be necessary. The events of Sept. 11 didn’t alter the fundamental rule in Washington: Clout matters. A deputy attorney general would be able to demand resources and cooperation from competing federal agencies in a way that lower-ranking department officials cannot. Moreover, Thompson, who by all accounts is a skilled lawyer and administrator, has no counterterrorism experience. “The number one goal in our strategic plan is combating terrorism,” says Daniel Bryant, assistant attorney general for Legislative Affairs. “The old ways are not adequate post-Sept. 11.” A FIVE-YEAR MISSION Last week, Ashcroft and Thompson announced a new five-year strategic plan, which places anti-terrorism efforts at the forefront of its mission. Accordingly, the department hopes to transfer 10 percent of its D.C.-based personnel into field positions. For example, the DOJ employs about 9,000 lawyers in Washington, meaning that almost 1,000 could end up being farmed out to the 94 U.S. attorney’s offices nationwide. The plan also includes a proposed restructuring of both the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, with an eye toward preventing future terrorist attacks. “The attacks of Sept. 11 have redefined the mission of the Department of Justice,” Ashcroft told a gathering of about 300 Justice officials in the Great Hall of the department’s Pennsylvania Avenue headquarters. “The opening battle has passed, but the war ahead will be long.” But counterterrorism isn’t the only area in which Congress believes Justice requires an overhaul in senior leadership. Last week, two leading House Republicans, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Rep. Gordon Gekas of Pennsylvania, introduced a bill to split the INS into two new agencies under the control of the department. The Sensenbrenner bill is similar to a restructuring plan authored by INS Commissioner James Ziglar. The Ziglar plan has already been approved by the White House. But there is a key difference. Under the House bill, the separate immigration and enforcement agencies would be folded into the Justice Department under a new associate attorney general for immigration affairs. The Ziglar plan would leave the re-formed agency as a separate component overseen by Ziglar’s office. Both the Gregg proposal and the Sensenbrenner plan suggest that Congress would prefer to have notoriously unruly agencies such as the FBI and the INS under the firm central authority of Main Justice. Naturally, it would also provide greater accountability to congressional overseers. “This new position elevates the immigration agency to the level that it deserves in the Justice Department,” said Sensenbrenner, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Hearings on his bill are scheduled for this week. SHAKING THE TREE But any Justice effort to remake itself is going to happen slowly, incrementally, and not without resistance. For the next several months, the department’s Strategic Management Council, chaired by Thompson, will gather suggestions on restructuring the DOJ and the FBI. Several independent reviews of the bureau’s operations are yet to be completed, and formal proposals on its reorganization aren’t expected until next spring. Along that line, the Justice Department budget, expected to be approved next week, does not reflect massive shifts in funding toward counterterrorism efforts. It does, however, contain slight spending increases for the FBI, the INS and the Drug Enforcement Administration. In fact, Justice officials say less than 5 percent of the budget has been specifically retooled for counterterrorism. That leaves the figure dedicated to such efforts at around $1 billion. Instead, the department will satisfy its short-term operational needs in the counterterrorism area by taking funds from the $40 billion emergency measure passed by Congress in September, while it examines where to shift resources for the next budget cycle. “It’s too premature to know what the lesser priorities are,” a senior DOJ official says. “We don’t have limitless resources. We’ve got to prioritize our responsibilities.” One place certain to face scrutiny, both within Justice and in Congress, is the department’s Office of Justice Programs. The office spends $4 billion a year on such grant programs as COPS, which provides funds for local police departments, as well as a host of other programs involving juvenile justice and enforcement of the Violence Against Women Act. A report released last month by the conservative Heritage Foundation complains that the department’s priorities have been misplaced. The report charges that during the last five years, spending by the Office of Justice Programs and the COPS effort dwarfed the FBI’s counterterrorism and national security efforts by a ratio of more than 22 to 1. “A lot of these programs are not a priority,” says David Mulhausen, the Heritage analyst who prepared the study. “A lot of these programs are extraneous to federal goals.” Ashcroft last week stated that a restructuring of Office of Justice Programs was one of the goals of his plan. That restructuring will largely deal with slimming the office’s top-heavy management, not with redirecting funds. There is a real-world reason for that. The grant programs, especially COPS, are tremendously popular with members of Congress, who have continually resisted any effort to scale them back. “I think it would be difficult to cut OJP dramatically, both short-term and long-term. Our duties are broader than counterterrorism,” says Bryant, who serves as Justice’s leading voice on Capitol Hill. Moreover, Bryant says, the office makes a significant contribution to the war on terrorism. Its Office of Domestic Preparedness works with local law enforcement officials to prepare communities for terrorist attacks. That office is expected to see increased resources as DOJ’s restructuring commences.

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