Merrick Garland seeks huge budget boosts for ambitious agenda

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday laid out an ambitious agenda of fighting domestic terrorism, reducing violent crime and securing voting rights — and asked Congress for an additional $4 billion in taxpayer funds to carry it out.

In testimony before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Mr. Garland said he needed more money to beef up the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Divisions, Community Relations Services, and U.S. Marshal Service.

He’s asking for the largest-ever budget increase for the Civil Rights Division, seeking $183.2 million, a 15% increase. The funds would add 85 new positions, including 60 lawyers to investigate hate crimes and protect voter rights.

Despite the swelling budget request, senators on both sides of the aisle said he neglected staffing shortages plaguing federal law enforcement agencies.

The proposed budget only includes an incremental budget for staffing needs in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

Both subcommittee Chair Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat, and ranking member Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican, griped that the proposed budget would leave the agencies behind.

Mr. Moran said the proposed increases for DEA staffing would do nothing to address the 13% decline in the agency’s workforce.

“The DEA is on the frontlines against sophisticated ruthless drug traffickers and cartels and the methamphetamine and opioid crises continue to wreak havoc and terrible damage on communities in Kansas and across the country,” Mr. Moran said. “ I’m troubled by the lack of attention given to the DEA in this budget request.”

Ms. Shaheen said she is concerned the proposed budget falls short in addressing staffing shortages at the Bureau of Prisons.

Mr. Garland responded that the Bureau of Prisons ramped up hiring in recent months and has 95% of its positions filled.

“So, there will always be a percentage, because of attrition, etc. But they have made dramatic increases in the number of hires to the point that BOP hired 900 net new staff,” he said.

All told, the Biden administration is asking for $35.3 billion for the department in FY 2022, a 7% increase over its FY 2021 budget.

The budget reflects the Justice Department’s commitment to “enforcing our country’s laws and to ensuring the civil rights and civil liberties of our people,” Mr. Garland said.

He asked for an additional $150.7 million to combat cyberattacks, including ransomware hacks. If approved, it would be the largest increase in the department’s cyber resources in more than a decade and grow the department’s cyber budget to $1.1 billion.

A recent spate of disruptive ransomware attacks has hit the country, disrupting food supply chains and creating panic at the gas pumps.

Last month, Russian-based hackers attacked Colonial Pipeline, which operates one of the largest fuel pipelines in the country. A few weeks later, another criminal organization hit JBS, the world’s largest meat processor, with a cyber assault.

“These threats are grave and escalating and we must keep pace with an ever-evolving threat landscape,” the attorney general said.

Mr. Garland is seeking an additional $752 million to reduce gun violence. If approved, the department’s violent crime budget would reach a record $9.4 billion.

“Protecting our communities from the recent increase in major violent crimes from the national epidemic of gun violence is among the pressing challenges facing the Department of Justice,” he said.

The budget request includes more than $1 billion in grants to support local, state, and tribal law enforcement organizations.

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