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Justice Department agencies have warned of budget cut fallout

Latest spending bill from House Republicans would cut overall agency funding again

Chairman Harold Rogers speaks during a House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the fiscal 2025 budget request for the Department of Justice on April 16. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland testified.
Chairman Harold Rogers speaks during a House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the fiscal 2025 budget request for the Department of Justice on April 16. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland testified. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans proposed another round of funding cuts to the Justice Department this week, despite warnings from agency officials that past cutbacks are hampering their law enforcement and public safety work.

House appropriators rolled out a draft fiscal 2025 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill that would slash funds for the DOJ and several of its entities that got reductions in the previous fiscal year, including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

ATF Director Steven Dettelbach, whose agency got a $47 million cut to its salary and expenses account in the current fiscal year, has said that he had to cancel three new special agent classes, which he said would have equated to about 10 to 12 fully staffed squads of agents.

The fiscal 2025 spending bill would cut that agency account by a further $188.5 million, according to a Republican summary.

“The president has again called on Congress to fully fund ATF,” Dettelbach said at an event Tuesday in Ohio. “Yet, unfortunately, just this morning, the House of Representatives released a plan to impose even further, deeper, more damaging cuts on ATF.”

Biden administration officials have told lawmakers in recent months that they are wading through the reverberations of the fiscal 2024 cuts, which Republican lawmakers secured in a negotiated spending package that cleared Congress earlier this year.

U.S. attorney offices, which prosecute federal crimes, would see an 11 percent cut in fiscal 2025 under the Republican-backed bill. Funding for those offices was virtually kept even last fiscal year, but they are feeling the pinch.

Adam Hanna, vice president of policy and advocacy at National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, said they’ve heard from members that their offices are not being authorized to fill vacancies, particularly in legal support roles, and that they may have to live with unfilled positions until further notice.

The fiscal 2025 spending bill would cut the FBI’s funding by 3.5 percent. In April, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the agency’s fiscal 2024 budget was about $500 million less than what the agency needed to sustain its 2023 efforts.

“It’s about a $500 million cut in our ability to get our job done,” he told lawmakers.

At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing this month, Wray told lawmakers that the FBI was “kind of muddling our way through the impact of the ’24 budget.”

“But if Congress were to, in my view, make the mistake of doubling down on that, then the consequences would be very significant,” Wray said.

Under the draft fiscal 2025 spending bill, the Justice Department would receive about a 3 percent cut to its discretionary total, or $987.8 million below the level enacted for fiscal 2024, according to the Republican summary. That fiscal 2024 spending bill reduced the agency discretionary funding by about 3 percent.

Funding debate

The White House slammed the House Republican proposal on Tuesday. In a statement, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates accused Republicans of trying to “defund law enforcement to the benefit of violent criminals and fentanyl traffickers, targeting federal agencies that are critical to stopping gun crime, terrorism, and child trafficking.”

A Republican summary of the bill argued that it would rein in “Washington bureaucracy by rightsizing agencies and programs” while also funneling money to support state and local law enforcement and the fight against fentanyl.

Not all areas of the Justice Department would be cut under the plan from House Republicans.

For example, the Drug Enforcement Administration would see $3.4 billion in total spending authority — an increase of about $224 million, according to a Democratic summary.

Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., a longtime influential appropriator who leads the Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee, said the bill would cut “wasteful spending” and rein in the FBI and the ATF. He said it would also invest in “programs that strengthen our economy and policies that protect our constitutional rights.”

Rogers also said the bill would push back “on blatant attempts to weaponize our justice system for political gain.”

House Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., said the bill would stop “the weaponization of the federal government against its citizens.”

Those comments are a nod to GOP allegations that the Justice Department has engaged in unfair treatment against conservatives. Republicans often point to Justice Department cases against former President Donald Trump, the presumptive 2024 Republican nominee, tied to classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago property and his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

But those arguments have been weakened in recent months by other Justice Department actions: The successful prosecution of President Joe Biden’s son, the ongoing corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and federal charges brought against Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas.

Committee Democrats in their own summary argued that the legislation would eliminate thousands of positions and threaten national security by defunding federal law enforcement. The bill would end up cutting resources that are used to protect the nation from threats like terrorism and espionage, they argued.

Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the subcommittee, said the proposed funding levels would force “huge reductions” to federal prosecutors and other employees who combat violent crime and other dangerous threats.

“Once again, the current leadership of the House is proposing harmful cuts to federal law enforcement, in order to satisfy their most extreme members,” Cartwright said.

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