STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
By Mr. BIDEN:
S. 2030. A bill to bring the FBI to full strength to carry out its mission; to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Full Strength Bureau Initiative Act of 2005. This is a piece of legislation that I think is critically important to our national security. Over the past four years, we have had numerous debates here in the Senate about what we need to do to protect ourselves from international terrorists. While I have disagreed with many of the specific decisions this Congress and President Bush have made, I do agree that we face a grave threat from radical fundamental terrorists. And, it should be a primary focus of our national security efforts. However, it simply makes no sense for us to spend all of our time worrying about terrorism if we turn a blind eye to traditional crime and the threat that it poses to our citizens. We simply have to be able to do both, and the legislation that I am introducing today will help do that.
Part of the response to address this threat has been to shift the primary function of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from investigating and capturing criminals to the prevention of terror attacks. I don't disagree that this is an appropriate shift in priorities, but, we haven't made the investments necessary for the FBI to shift priorities and meet its commitment to combat traditional crime. To address this concern, I am introducing legislation that will authorize funding for the FBI to hire an additional 1,000 agents. These agents will replace the ones that have been reassigned to counterterrorism cases and will help keep our communities safe. The cost--$160 million per year--is minimal when compared to the benefits it will provide. Its passage will help ensure that the FBI has the resources to achieve its counterterrorism priorities without neglecting its traditional crime fighting functions.
A 2004 Government Accountability Office found that the number of overall agents at the FBI has increased by only seven percent since 2001. During the same time, the overall percentage of agents dedicated to counterterrorism by twenty five percent--with 678 agents being permanently shifted from drug, white collar, and violent crime cases to counter-terror activities. In addition, we know that many agents are working on counterterrorism cases even if they have not been ``officially'' dedicated to that effort in a process know within the FBI as ``overburning.''
Ultimately, the GAO concluded, as it often does, that the impact on traditional crime was statistically inconclusive; however the report demonstrated many concerns. First, the report found that the FBI referred 236 counterterrorism matters to U.S. Attorneys for prosecution in fiscal year 2001, which ended three weeks after September 11. Two years later, in fiscal year 2003, the FBI referred 1,821 counterterrorism cases to U.S. Attorneys for prosecution--this is a 671 percent increase. During the same period of time, referrals for drug, whitecollar, and violent crime matters all declined by 39 percent, 23 percent, and 10 percent respectively. This statistically demonstrates that the reprogramming effort--while critical--has had an impact on the FBI's traditional crime fighting efforts.
In addition to investigating Federal crimes, the FBI also provides critical assistance to State and local law enforcement. Quite simply, the FBI has technical expertise and resources that are not available to many State and local agencies--especially smaller jurisdictions. These local agencies rely on the FBI to assist them on technical matters, and as the FBI continues to divert resources from criminal cases, a gap in overall law enforcement capabilities is developing. In order to preserve public safety and national security this is a gap that must be filled.
Unfortunately, local budget woes are making it impossible for local agencies to fill the slack. A recent survey indicated that 23 of 44 police agencies are facing an officer shortfall. The USA Today and the New York Times have reported officer shortages in New York, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Houston and others. In addition, I recently attended a Judiciary Committee hearing in Philadelphia and we heard testimony from the Philadelphia Chief of Police that he had lost 2,000 officers in recent years, and the Pittsburgh police chief reported that she had lost nearly 1/4 of her officers and had to suspend her community policing programs and other crime prevention programs due to budget cuts.
In addition to local budget woes, the U.S. Congress continues to slash Federal assistance for State and local law enforcement. In this year's Commerce, Justice, State appropriations bill, the Congress cut roughly $300 million from the Justice Assistance Grant and completely eliminated the COPS hiring program. Any local sheriff or police chief will tell you how important this funding assistance is to their efforts, and the investments that we made in them over the past ten years helped drive down crime rates from all-time highs to the lowest levels in a generation. In addition, the COPS program has been statistically proven to reduce crime by the Government Accountability Office, and the Justice Assistance Grants are the primary grant programs used by local agencies to combat illegal drug use in their communities. I voted for this spending bill because it provided critical funding for the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency, but I remain very critical of the cuts to state and local law enforcement assistance and hope that the President and the Republican-led Congress will change course.
Unfortunately, these cuts and the FBI reprogramming of agents from crime to counter-terror cases is creating a perfect storm that I'm afraid will contribute to rising crime rates in the future. The good news is that the 2004 Uniform Crime Reports show that crime rates remain at historic lows. But, many criminologists have pointed out that many crime indicators should caution against complacency. Last year, there were over 16,000 murders throughout the United States, and police chiefs and sheriffs are reporting worrying signs of local youth violence. Indeed, a 2005 report by the FBI on youth gangs shows that gang activity is on the rise. Rather than pull-back, we need to re-double our effort to ensure that crime rates don't rise in the future and to push them even lower. I've often said that the safety of Nation's citizens should be the top priority of our Federal Government--this applies to combating international terrorists and traditional crime.
We spent a bulk of the nineties creating a Federal, State, and local partnership that helped make our Nation safer than it has been in a generation. This partnership is breaking down because the President and many in Congress feel that local crime is not a national priority. I couldn't disagree more. The safety of the American people is the most important priority that we have. It doesn't matter whether the threat comes from international terrorists, drug traffickers, or from the thug down the street. In my opinion, it is a terrible mistake to use the successes of the past ten years and the new focus on terrorism as an excuse to abandon our critical anti-crime responsibilities. We can--and we must do both. The American people are counting on us, and the legislation that I am introducing today will help ensure that we meet our commitment to the American people to make sure that they are safe from crime and terrorism.