October 19, 2001 | Commentary on Federal Budget
The legislation in question would give the FBI between $448
million and $485 million for counter-terrorism and national
security. Contrast that with the more than $4 billion that would go
to grant programs at the Office of Community Oriented Policing
Services (COPS) and the Office of Justice Programs (OJP).
Even if these were some crackerjack programs (they're not, but more about that in a moment), does it make sense to spend nine times more on them than we do on counter-terrorism and national security?
Unfortunately, this imbalance isn't new. From 1996 to 2000, OJP and COPS cost U.S. taxpayers a total of $23 billion -- compared with only $1 billion for the FBI to fight terrorism and ensure national security.
Worse, taxpayers haven't received much for their billions. One
study done by the University of Maryland (published by the Justice
Department, no less) found that many Justice Department crime
programs either are ineffective at curbing crime or haven't been
examined at all. "By scientific standards, there are very few
'programs of proven effectiveness,'" noted one of the study's
COPS, the most prominent of Justice's budget-busters, was
supposed to have placed 100,000 new police officers on U.S. streets
by October 2000. Some $8 billion in federal grants later, the
program has placed (at best) about 57,000 officers on the street.
And according to a study that we at The Heritage Foundation
conducted of 734 counties nationwide that accepted COPS grants,
it's done nothing to reduce crime.
It mattered little how the money was spent. Whether COPS grants
were used for officer salaries or technology, they had virtually no
effect on crime.
There's a logical explanation, though, and Justice officials
came up with it when they reviewed their programs in 1997: Merely
paying for the operating expenses of law enforcement agencies
without a defined crime-fighting objective isn't enough. "While the
COPS program … has stressed a community policing approach,
there is no evidence that community policing per se reduces crime
without a clear [crime-fighting goal]," they wrote.
Despite this, the House wants to spend $557 million next year on
grants for officer salaries and technology, or 25 percent more than
it has budgeted for the FBI's counter-terrorism and security
programs. The Senate has virtually the same spending
The Office of Justice Programs does fund some worthwhile
programs, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited
Children. But quite a few others, including ones that deal with
juvenile delinquency and drug treatment, are about as effective as
COPS. Yet as of now, Congress plans to spend $2 billion -- enough
to pay for nearly four dozen F-15 fighters -- on questionable OJP
grants. Shouldn't the recipients at least be required to prove that
their programs work, let alone take precedence over fighting
It's not too late for Congress to do the right thing. As much as
$2.6 billion of the more than $4 billion earmarked for COPS and OJP
could be transferred to the FBI's counter-terrorism efforts. The
Justice Department could double its spending on counter-terrorism
simply by transferring the COPS funding for officer salaries and
This is a matter of getting your priorities straight. The crimes
Americans are most worried about right now are the ones the FBI is
seeking to solve. The money could go to buy sophisticated equipment
to track and monitor terrorists, upgrade airport security and
improve responses by state and local governments.
Counter-terrorism shouldn't be forced to take a back seat to other programs, especially to ones that already have proven to be a colossal waste of money. It's time counter-terrorism gets everything it needs. Everything.
David Muhlhausen is a policy analyst in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.
Distributed Nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune Wire