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Federal budget priorities.

Even by Washington standards, the lengthy battle to pass appropriations bills to fund federal government activities for fiscal year 2003 was a long and drawn-out process. The government relied on a series of continuing resolutions funding the vast majority of government operations from October 2002 until the final omnibus appropriations package was passed in February.

As the budget process for fiscal year 2003 began to draw to a close, the future of numerous programs that provide federal aid to state and local law enforcement agencies was in jeopardy. Despite being reauthorized by Congress in late 2002, the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which provides reimbursement to state and local law enforcement agencies for the incarceration of illegal criminal aliens, was unfunded in both the House and Senate bills that went to conference. Similarly, funding for the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant Program, which provides federal assistance to programs aimed at reducing drug and violent crimes, was in jeopardy heading into conference.

While the debates about the fiscal year 2003 budget were being resolved, President Bush unveiled his fiscal year 2004 budget proposal, which calls for elimination of numerous programs that provide aid to state and local law enforcement agencies. The president's budget proposal, which names fighting terrorism and protecting homeland security as the top priority for the Department of Justice, contends that the majority of state and local law enforcement programs have either outlived their usefulness or lack verifiable account-ability measures. For example, the president's budget states that the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant Program (JABG) was rated ineffective, as an analysis found that the program "had no long-term objectives or annual performance goals." Further, the president's budget states that funding criteria for JABG "are minimal, there are competing definitions of 'accountability,' and there is no clear standard of performance through which the department can hold grantees accountable. As these flaws appear inherent to JABG's structure, the budget does not fund this program." Similar language relating to the lack of demonstrable impact on crime has been used to describe both SCAAP and the Byrne programs in the past. Also, the president's fiscal year 2004 budget proposal once again seeks to eliminate funding for these programs, as was the case in the president's fiscal year 2003 budget proposal.

While SCAAP and Byrne were able to stave off the chopping block during the long and arduous fiscal year 2003 appropriations proceedings (SCAAP was funded at $250 million as compared with $565 million in fiscal year 2003 and the formula grant component of Byrne was funded at $500 million in both fiscal year 2003 and fiscal year 2004), these programs are far from safe. In addition, as indicated above, the JABG program is also in jeopardy. Unfortunately, the bad news does not end with SCAAP, Byrne and JABG, as the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant Program (LLEBG) and components of the Community Oriented Policing Program are also facing elimination of funding.

Not all the news from the president's fiscal year 2004 budget proposal is bad. While it is true that as the DOJ re-prioritizes its efforts to focus on counterterrorism, state and local law enforcement agencies will bear a larger responsibility in the fight against crime. And while the budget reduces overall grant funding, the department will maintain or expand funding for "select high-impact initiatives that can bring closure to unsolved crimes, break the cycle of offenders' drug abuse, and reduce gun-related violence in our communities." Among the initiatives that the administration has proposed expanding are: the drug courts program, which supports state and local court-supervised treatment and testing of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders; programs to clear the backlog of unanalyzed DNA samples and invest in the latest crime lab technology and training; and the youth gun crime interdiction initiative of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a national network of law enforcement and community initiatives designed to enforce existing gun laws and deter gun crime. Under the president's plan, state and local police would be eligible for at least $500 million of a $3.5 billion aid program to be administered by the Department of Homeland Security for terrorism prevention. In addition, within the DOJ, the president is seeking to create a $600 million justice assistance grant program, which could provide assistance to many of the programs across the nation currently receiving Byrne and LLEBG funds.

As the fiscal year 2004 process moves forward, there will be battles to preserve funding for many of the programs designed to aid state and local law enforcement agencies and many tough decisions about the future of these programs will be made. ACA will seek to have a voice in those debates. Members are encouraged to work with ACA and, more important, to work with and educate their representatives in both houses of Congress about the vital impact that federal aid to state and local law enforcement agencies has on the programs and services that are being provided.

Joey R. Weedon is manager of governmental affairs for the American Correctional Association. He can be reached at (301) 918-1885;
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Title Annotation:Legislative Issues
Author:Weedon, Joey R.
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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