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Law enforcement groups raise concerns on potential budget cuts

Groups said state and local police depend on federal grant funding and federal agencies that might get slashed

Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., right, greets Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, during a House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in March on the fiscal 2024 budget request for the Department of Justice.
Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., right, greets Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, during a House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in March on the fiscal 2024 budget request for the Department of Justice. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Law enforcement groups have raised concerns that potential fiscal 2024 cuts sought by House Republicans could hamper state and local agencies at a time when they face headwinds with recruitment and retention.

The plan from House Republicans would, on paper, slash discretionary funding nearly 29 percent in the spending bill that covers Justice Department, the Commerce Department, NASA and the National Science Foundation, among other entities.

The House has not yet released its version of that bill, and any cuts to the Commerce-Justice-Science measure could also be made from non-law enforcement.

But that has not halted concerns from police groups who say a cut in funding would stymie federal law enforcement operations. Plus, the groups said local and state police depend on federal grant funding in the bill.

Some hard-right conservatives have made the Justice Department and FBI a target of attack over what they perceive as political bias within the agencies.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, criticized potential cuts to police funding and said federal law enforcement plays an “extraordinarily vital role” in working with police at the state and local level.

“State and local law enforcement are suffering. They’re dying on the vine because of a lack of funding,” Pasco said. “And to add the federal government to that mix, I don’t know what the expectation is. Will the law enforcement effort be conducted by posses?”

Republican lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee are writing their spending bills to the fiscal 2022 topline level, but overall spending will be higher.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, has said she will claw back about $115 billion in still unspent funds that would be used as offsets. That would bring actual funding levels closer to the $1.59 trillion ceiling that was written into the negotiated debt ceiling deal.

Republican Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky, a longtime appropriator who is now chairman of the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, isn’t tipping his hand on what might be on the chopping block in that funding bill.

“We’re still discussing what to do on the bill. So I’m going to be quiet about it until we get our position,” he said in a hallway interview last month.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department says that implementing fiscal 2022 funding levels would lead to a cascade of negative consequences, including layoffs or furloughs.

Law enforcement groups have their concerns. Andrea Edmiston, the director of governmental affairs for the National Association of Police Organizations, said with a funding reduction as big as Republicans have discussed, there’s an assumption that lawmakers could reduce state and local assistance grant programs.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us to make sure that they don’t, because that’s a big chunk of money that the House is looking to cut from the programs,” said Edmiston, whose organization is a coalition of police unions and associations.

The funding bill includes the Justice Department’s Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, which can send money to support police, drug treatment and prosecution, among other topic areas.

But the Justice Department has warned that reverting back to fiscal 2022 levels would lead to a roughly 30 percent drop on average in the award amount provided at the local and state level under the program.

That deep of a reduction would be felt nationwide, but particularly in smaller and more rural states, Edmiston said.

Many fiscal conservatives don’t believe that it’s the federal government’s job to fund state and local law enforcement because it’s a state and local service, Edmiston said. But those agencies have taken on more responsibilities over the years at the request of the federal government, she said.

“It’s reached the point where state and local law enforcement agencies — a lot of them, right — rely on federal funding to make their budgets work,” Edmiston said.

Larry Cosme, national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said paring back to fiscal 2022 funding levels could harm long-term investigations. The cuts will be felt by rank-and-file officers, he said.

“These are the men and women that took an oath to do their job and uphold the laws of this country and to put away criminals,” Cosme said.

Congress has the ability to conduct oversight, Cosme said, but lawmakers should not express their grievances through the appropriations process.

“The way you carry it out is to ask questions, to seek documents and hold those individuals that are responsible for running these organizations accountable,” Cosme said.

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