October 19, 2001

October 19, 2001 | Commentary on Federal Budget

Finding Funds to Fight Terrorism

Everything changed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, we've been told. But when you look at the funding Congress is getting ready to approve for the Justice Department for the next fiscal year, you have to wonder.

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 authors.

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 priorities.

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 terrorism?

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 technology.

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.

About the Author

David B. Muhlhausen, Ph.D. Research Fellow in Empirical Policy Analysis
Center for Data Analysis

Related Issues: Federal Budget

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