Prepared Opening Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Executive Business Meeting
Thursday, February 16, 2012
We have a request to hold over the Hurwitz nomination. We can voice vote out the remaining nominees – Baker, Lee, Tharp and Russell.
Before we vote on the nominations, I’d like to say a few words about the release of the President’s fiscal 2013 budget that was released earlier this week. Specifically, I want to talk about the Department of Justice budget which this committee has a distinct interest in reviewing.
The Justice Department budget, like the rest of the President’s fiscal 2013 budget, is loaded full of budgetary gimmicks and sleight of hand.
While the budget claims to be nearly $1.8 billion below the fiscal 2012 appropriations, many of the savings achieved in this budget are one-time recessions from existing balances that remain in Justice Department accounts. These one-time recessions are more than just deceiving, they are actually harmful to the long-term viability of the federal government’s budget.
For example, those who attended yesterday’s hearing heard from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) about how the Justice Department has been carrying over a balance in the Bulletproof Vest Partnership program dating back as far as fiscal 1999. According to GAO, those funds include $27 million sitting in an account that could be deobligated and used to offset future appropriations. This is the same tactic being used by the department throughout the rest of its budget.
Now, using unspent or unallocated funds is a good thing—and the department shouldn’t be carrying over significant balances—otherwise, we’ll need to cut down future appropriations. However, this becomes a problem when these one-time recessions are used to offset base-line spending increases—as the department’s fiscal 2013 budget does.
These one-time recessions are used to mask spending increases for a variety of Justice Department accounts. For instance, the Marshals Service has a net increase of $29 million, but it only appears to be a $12 million increase to the baseline when offset with $17 million in one-time recessions from construction and salary funds. The FBI appears to be reduced by $48 million, but in reality the FBI sees a net budget increase of $114 million, offset by a one-time recession of $162 million.
Same story with the Drug Enforcement Administration budget where they show a net increase of only $10 million, when in fact the baseline increase is $25 million offset by $15 million in recessions. The list goes on and on throughout the rest of the budget.
Perhaps the most concerning part of the department’s budget is the fact that many of the spending increases will be paid for out of the Crime Victims Fund. This fund was created in 1984 by the Victims of Crime Act. It is financed by fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders, not from tax dollars. The funds in the account are to be used for victim’s services and assistance.
For years, the fund has had an administrative cap placed on it by the Appropriations Committee. This arbitrary cap limits the amount of funds that go to help victims, creating an additional funding stream for appropriators to pay for programs they want to fund.
The fiscal 2013 budget does manage to increase this cap from $705 million, to just over $1 billion. This should be good news for victims, but it is not.
Instead of providing this money to victims, the department’s budget, in the department’s own words, “proposes to preserve important OVW and OJP grant programs that directly or indirectly assist victims of crime by funding them through [Crime Victims Fund] receipts…rather than with discretionary budget authority.” So, instead of asking Congress to fund grant programs, the department is asking to use Crime Victims Fund money to pay for programs that “indirectly assist victims”.
This is a significant change and one that allows the Justice Department to continue to increase funding for bureaucratic components like the Criminal Division, Civil Division, Tax Division, and law enforcement components like the FBI, DEA, and Marshals, while decreasing net expenditures.
What this does is essentially allow the Justice Department to increase the size of the bureaucracy, without looking like they’re spending more money. Instead, the crime victims fund takes the hit.
This is not a budget that seeks to lead for the future. It is not a budget that faces the reality that the federal government is too big already. It is an election year ploy to say they are cutting the budget while using gimmicks to pay for it.
The only solace is that Majority Leader Reid has already signaled that he has no intention of bringing such a dead on arrival budget to the Senate floor.
So, keeping with the practice that the Senate Majority has followed for more than 1,000 days, we don’t really need to worry about voting for the gimmicks in the department’s budget. However, we’ll need to keep an eye out so that these gimmicks don’t find their way into an appropriations bill.