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It’s tucked into the Department of Justice budget, sitting quietly between requests for additional money to boost homeland security and immigration enforcement: $25.2 million for the government’s massive lawsuit against the tobacco industry. To be sure, the figure is trifling compared with the Justice Department’s total 2003 budget proposal of $23.1 billion. Still, the investment marks the first significant show of support for the lawsuit since Republicans took over the White House. In his early months at the department, Attorney General John Ashcroft waffled over whether the government would continue to pursue the suit, and the Bush administration faced criticism from some lawmakers for publicly undermining the case. That appears to have changed. “We are committed to pursuing the lawsuit,” a top Ashcroft aide announced last week. If Congress approves the request, it will be the first time the DOJ budget has included funds earmarked for the tobacco suit since it was filed in 1999. President Bill Clinton originally sought $20 million to fund the suit, but was rebuffed by Congress. In past years, costs associated with the lawsuit have been pulled from other agencies and a fund established in 1996 to support health care fraud enforcement. “My sense is that they got boxed into a corner where they either had to drop the case or fund it. Politically they were not willing to drop it,” says William Schultz, a partner at Washington, D.C.’s Zuckerman Spaeder who oversaw the tobacco litigation before leaving the department in 2000. The tobacco funds are part of a substantial increase sought for the Civil Division budget, which jumps from $170 million to $240 million. Of the $70 million increase — the largest ever for the division — approximately $33 million is allocated for administering the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. And more than $7 million will go to fund Cobell v. Norton, a case brought by Native Americans who claim the government mismanaged millions of dollars in Indian Country trust funds. The suit is the largest class action ever filed against the government. In the tobacco suit and Cobell — both giant document-intensive cases — the requested funds would pay for automated litigation support. All told, the Civil Division plans to invest $40 million in litigation support services in 2003, up from $8 million this year. As a result of increased efficiency, the administration proposes to cut 12 attorney positions, squeaking out a savings of $1.8 million. The DOJ budget also eliminates 10 attorney slots in the Tax Division and eight in the Environment and Natural Resources Division for a savings of approximately $2.2 million. Under the president’s plan, the department’s total discretionary spending decreases 1 percent from 2002. As expected, the centerpiece of the budget plan is a $2 billion investment in counterterrorism programs, including more than $700 million to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for improved border security and more than $400 million to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for hiring and technology enhancements. Nearly $30 million is allocated to improve the FBI’s internal security programs. The largest cuts come out of COPS, or Community Oriented Policing Services, a Clinton-era program aimed at putting more police officers on the street. In 2002, COPS will dole out more than $1 billion in grants to local law enforcement agencies for hiring, technological improvements and other community crime prevention initiatives. The Bush budget eliminates three of the largest COPS grant programs and reduces several others. “We believe COPS has met its hiring goal of 100,000 new officers. We believe the place to focus resources is helping state and local agencies prepare for emergency and crisis response,” says one senior DOJ official. “Generally assistance to local responders will go up, but not necessarily from the Justice Department.” But the cuts may meet resistance on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers use grant money to fund projects in their districts. Similar cutbacks proposed last year were not adopted by Congress. “Clearly if you survey local police chiefs, there is still a need for more cops walking the street,” says a Democratic Judiciary Committee staffer. “There are other places you can find the funds to pay for this program.” Additional DOJ budget highlights: � $400 million for a three-year election reform program modeled on recommendations of the Ford/Carter Commission. The money — $1.2 billion over three years — will be allocated to states for voter education and acquisition of modern voting equipment. � $40 million to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for one-time costs associated with restructuring the agency. � $30.4 million in additional funds to the U.S. Marshals Service for courthouse security, including $5 million to provide enhanced security at high-threat trials. � $17 million to the Drug Enforcement Administration to target heroin-trafficking organizations in Central Asia, including Afghanistan. � $5.8 million to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to hire lawyers to handle casework generated by new Border Patrol agents and to litigate special interest cases involving issues such as terrorism, foreign counterintelligence and national security. � $2 million to hire additional Assistant U.S. Attorneys to defend the United States in civil litigation. � The budget eliminates funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which reimburses states for incarcerating illegal alien fugitives. In the current year, the bulk of the funds, $565 million, will go to California, Florida and Texas.

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