DOJ budget highlights ‘law and order’ priorities, but cuts funding and personnel

While President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal includes about a billion dollars in cuts to the Justice Department — including thousands of personnel cuts — violent crime reduction and immigration enforcement efforts would see hundreds of millions in additional funds.

For the “law and order” president’s proposed budget, the DOJ requests $27.7 billion for fiscal year 2018, down 3.8 percent from this fiscal year, according to a budget summary released Tuesday. That includes cutting 9,928 agents, attorneys, analysts and other workers in a department with slightly more than 100,000 people on the payroll.

While Congress will no doubt revise much of what’s in the president’s budget, the proposal shines a light on priorities for both Trump and his top cop, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Agency Funding

Under the proposal, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would lose 42 workers, including an attorney and 20 agents. But the agency would get about a $36 million funding boost from the previous year, including $6.5 million in additional funds for the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, which evaluates and shares ballistics intelligence. The ATF would also allocate an additional $4 million to help expedite National Firearms Act applications.

To fund the president’s Feb. 9 executive order calling for a task force on crime reduction and public safety, $3.5 million in resources would come from the ATF, another $3.5 million from the FBI — and the Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Marshals Service would each allocate $6 million. That gives the Violent and Gun-Related Crime Reduction Task Force a $19 million budget in its inaugural year.

As outlined in the president’s order, the task force will be comprised of individuals appointed by the attorney general. The group will work on strategies to reduce crime, identify deficiencies in existing law, propose new laws to improve public safety, and identify ways to improve crime data collection.

Elsewhere in the budget, the FBI is slated to have 1,625 fewer employees, and about an $8 million reduction of funds year over year — a 0.1 percent dip for an agency with nearly a $9 billion budget. Under the proposal, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the nearly 20-year-old federal program for determining gun purchase eligibility, would get $8.9 million in additional funds, including 85 new workers.

“The request will enable the FBI to maintain efforts addressing high volumes of firearms background checks,” a budget document says. The system currently employs nearly 600 people and operates on about a $70 million annual budget.

Within the Office of Justice Programs, the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants would see a $42.8 million decrease. The grants fund things like body cameras, bulletproof vests, as well as research and other initiatives. The proposal carves out $22.5 million each for body cameras and vests for next year’s Byrne JAG program.

Violent Crime

The Justice Department is touting $198.5 million in enhancements to violent crime reduction efforts as part of next year’s budget. That includes the gun task force, the ballistics equipment upgrades, the quicker NFA application processing, and the increase in background check staff. But it also includes $18.8 million for 230 new attorneys to prosecute violent crime nationwide.

“Resources will be provided to the offices with the highest demonstrated need in areas that are necessary to accomplish the objectives of this initiative,” says a budget fact sheet.

Another $70 million would go to a new grant program called the Project Safe Neighborhoods Initiatives. Funding needs will be evidence-based and “locally determined, rather than federally controlled, to ensure it addresses local problems and priorities.” U.S. attorneys will lead partnerships between federal, state and local agencies to direct funds toward gang violence and gun crime enforcement and intervention efforts.

Another $40 million in funds would target drug trafficking organizations in an effort to combat the opioid epidemic “that is crippling communities across the United States.”

Immigration Enforcement

Immigration has been a defining issue for the president during his short time in office. The Justice Department is asking Congress to approve $144.9 million to help enforce Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order on Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements. The funds aim to speed up immigration hearings and provide resources to departments and personnel as agencies boost enforcement efforts.

The Justice Department wants part of that $144.9 million to go toward the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Citing a 125 percent increase in immigration court caseloads since 2010, the department says 560,000 cases are currently awaiting adjudication. Officials want to decrease that backlog.

“In order to maintain the efficacy and efficiency of immigration enforcement and adjudication programs and process the increasing workload, the Department requests $75 million for 75 new immigration judges and support staff,” says a budget request overview.

The Justice Department wants $50.3 million in additional funding for federal prisoner detention — money for housing, medicine and transportation of detainees, which are expected to rise as a result of increased border security and immigration enforcement.

The budget also asks for an additional $7.2 million to hire 70 attorneys to help prosecute border crime, and $1.8 million to hire 12 attorneys who will “meet litigation, acquisition, and appraisal demands during the construction along the border between Mexico and the United States.”