The $29.2 billion Justice Department budget for fiscal 2011 proposed by President Barack Obama on Monday includes $237 million to purchase and upgrade a prison in Illinois to house detainees now housed at the Guantánamo Bay military prison in Cuba, reports The Chicago Sun-Times.
According to The Sun-Times, the State of Illinois and the federal government are currently negotiating over the purchase price of the state-owned, but now vacant, Thomson Correctional Center in northwest Illinois.
Reports The Sun-Times:
In a briefing with reporters on Sunday afternoon previewing the budget — the contents were embargoed until 6 a.m. Eastern time on Monday — White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag said the acquisition of Thomson by the federal government would be “warranted” even in the absence of Guantánamo detainees, because more space was needed to house federal maximum security prisoners.
On the call, the briefers used two numbers to discuss the Thomson purchase and security upgrading needed — $250 million and $270 million. Asked to clarify, the Chicago Sun-Times was told the Justice Department fiscal 2011 request will include “$237 million to purchase, modify, and operate Thomson for a full year.
“This should not be viewed as the purchase price alone — it includes the cost of modifying and operating the facility for a year. The negotiation process with the State of Illinois regarding the purchase price is ongoing, and this number builds in flexibility depending on the final appraisals and final negotiated price with the state.”
Here are some of the other highlights from the president’s budget request, which is about $1.5 billion more than the budget that was enacted for fiscal 2010:
- A $233 million increase for the FBI for national security work, intelligence gathering, technology, information sharing and infrastructure improvements.
- A $302 million increase for retaining or hiring police officers.
- A $120 million increase for combating violence against women.
- $104 million for additional FBI and DOJ employees to investigate major financial fraud.
- A $91 million increase for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces and the Drug Enforcement Administration to fight drug trafficking on the Southwest border.
- A $90.3 million increase for national security, infrastructure improvements, and curbing violent and international organized crime.
- $73 million for transferring, prosecuting and incarcerating Guantánamo Bay detainees.
- $60 million for more Department of Health and Human Services and DOJ task forces. There are seven task forces now and the budget request calls for 20.
- A $23.5 million increase for the U.S. Attorneys to combat economic crimes, “preserve justice through civil enforcement,” E-Discovery and International Organize Crime initiatives.
- A $17.8 million increase to better combat civil rights crimes.
A briefing with reporters about the budget is scheduled at Justice Department headquarters in Washington this afternoon.
Andrew Ramonas contributed to this report.
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The Justice Department is eliminating 30 attorney positions from anti-drug trafficking task forces, scaling back a key program as the U.S. tries to combat Mexican cartels and stem the flow of weapons and illegal drugs across the border.
U.S. Attorneys’ offices will realize the loses through attrition, and all nine Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force regions will be affected, Justice officials said. The OCDETF cuts were announced in a memo sent to U.S. Attorneys offices last month.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the memo, citing personnel matters and the ongoing budget process.
The 27-year-old program draws on federal, state and local resources and has been considered a model of inter-agency collaboration. Attorney General Eric Holder has described OCDETF as ”the strategic centerpiece of the Department’s counter-narcotics effort,” and the DOJ credits the program with dismantling or disrupting dozens of national criminal organizations.
One Justice official said that the cuts came after a review of the program, and that the department was “being smart with our limited resources.” Funding has been an issue for OCDETF in recent years, and the program has seen its workforce decline.
There are 588 OCDETF prosecutors working in U.S. Attorneys offices, the Criminal Division and the Tax Division, according to department figures. In fiscal year 2008, the department was forced to reduce OCDETF staff by 146 positions, including 77 agents and 30 attorneys. The FY 2009 appropriation left unfunded 99 positions, including 52 agents and 20 attorneys.
For FY2010, the department requested $537.5 million for the task forces, including $8.9 million for enforcement activities along the Southwest border. The funding would create a 9- to-1- ratio of agents to prosecutors in the region, bringing it in line with the national average. The current ratio is about 13 to 1.
The Senate on Thursday approved the FY 2010 Commerce, Justice, science appropriations bill, which would put aside $515 million for inter-agency crime and drug enforcement. The House, which passed its version of the bill in June, approved $528.6 million, about the same funding level as in FY2009. (We’ve got calls out to members of the appropriations subcommittees. We’ll update the post when we hear back.)
The personnel issues come as Mexican cartels are strengthening partnerships with U.S.-based street and prison gangs. Last month, the department announced the arrests of more than 300 people suspected of ties to La Familia, the newest and fastest-growing cartel, based in the state of Michoacan, in southwestern Mexico.
While the Obama administration has directed more resources to the Southwest border, the cartels have burrowed into communities across the United States, officials say. In the recent sweep targeting La Familia, dubbed “Project Coronado,” authorities made arrests in 38 cities in 19 states.
“The problem is not just along the southwest border, it is all over our country now,” said Kenneth Melson, head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, in a briefing with reporters last month.
Former OCDETF officials said the program could absorb the hit, but at a cost.
“Unless we’re willing to delcare the war on drugs over and walk away, it’s huge loss,” said Foley Hoag’s Michael Pelgro, a former chief the OCDETF unit in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office. “Drug prosecution is a very labor-intensive job. When you’re indicting 20 people at a time, that takes a lot effort and a lot of manpower.”
Dickinson Wright partner Michael Volkov, a former OCDETF prosecutor in the Washington, D.C., said he expected political fallout, as the administration tries to counter Republican criticisms that it is not pursuing drug crimes aggressively. (Holder was criticized recently for a new policy on medical marijuana, which advises against prosecuting patients or caregivers who comply with state laws.)
“Republicans are going to say, ‘This is just another example of the permissive attitude of the Democratic party toward drug enforcement,’” said Volkov, a former Republican aide on the Senate and House Judiciary committees. “It’s unfortunate, and it sends the wrong message.”
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