Attorney General Testimony Before the Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee
April 26, 2001
SEN. GREGG: (Strikes gavel.) We'll begin the hearing. We appreciate the attorney general's promptness in appearing before the committee, which looks forward to hearing from the attorney general. I didn't know, but if the ranking member had a statement he wished to make --
SEN. ERNEST HOLLINGS (D-SC): No.
SEN. GREGG: -- I'm glad to hear from the senator from South Carolina.
SEN. HOLLINGS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We welcome the attorney general, and we're glad to proceed with the hearing.
SEN. GREGG: I feel the same way. We're here to hear you, not you hear us. So we'll be happy to get your thoughts, Mr. Attorney General, and then maybe ask some questions.
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you, Chairman Gregg and Ranking Member Hollings. It's a pleasure to be with you today. It's an honor and a privilege to appear before you and to present the president's first budget request for the Department of Justice.
For fiscal year 2002, the president's budget seeks $24.6 billion for the department, including $20.9 billion in discretionary spending authority and $3.7 billion in mandatory resources.
While the 2002 request maintains the same overall amount of spending authority as provided by this subcommittee in 2001, less than 1 percent variance, we've managed to enhance a number of key efforts, including reducing gun crime, stopping violence against women, combatting drugs, and guaranteeing civil rights for all Americans.
This budget includes a general shift in spending from state and local and law enforcement in order to support our core federal law enforcement mission and to better target assistance to areas of greatest need, such as crime in our schools, crimes committed with firearms, and violence against women.
The Community-Oriented Policing Services, or COPS program, is continued at a somewhat reduced level, with resources re-targeted for school safety, law enforcement technology needs, and reducing DNA backlogs.
The budget includes nearly $1.1 billion in program increases to enable the department to carry out its core mission, particularly in the areas of detention and incarceration; anti-terrorism; cyber crime and counter-intelligence.
Another $302 million in new funding is requested to address key technology initiatives focusing on systems integration, upgrades and network reliability. Of this amount, $225.7 million will be used directly to assist state and local law enforcement agencies with technology needs.
The 2002 budget also focuses on several key areas that reflect the priorities of the Bush administration. Gun violence, violence against women and drug crime all threaten to deny the most fundamental right of our citizens: the right to their personal safety. The 2002 budget provides $650 million in additional funding to help secure this basic right.
There is no question that we need a renewed commitment to the vigorous enforcement of existing laws addressing gun crime. The recent gun violence on school campuses highlights the need for collaboration among federal, state and local law enforcement officers to combat juvenile gun crime. I intend to intensify enforcement efforts in this area of enforcement of the laws against gun crime.
The first step toward this goal is our request for $153.8 million in increased resources to enforce vigorously gun laws through increased prosecutions, collaborative approaches to crimes committed with firearms, and by ensuring that child safety locks are available for every handgun in America.
To reinvigorate the war on illegal drugs, the 2002 budget includes $77.2 million in additional resources. Specifically, our budget seeks $58.2 million in enhancements for the Drug Enforcement Administration. The request also continues to provide $48 million for the Office of Justice Programs to assist state and local law enforcement agencies with the costs associated with meth cleanup and to aid in meth enforcement.
Through the efforts of the Civil Rights Division, the Community Relations Service and the United States attorneys, the FBI and the Office of Justice Programs, the department seeks to protect the civil rights and liberties of all Americans. The 2002 budget includes an increase of $105.7 million to further these efforts.
For immigration-related activities, the 2002 budget includes an additional $240 million. Included within this amount is $75 million for the INS to add 570 new Border Patrol agents in 2002. To address chronic space shortages and facility deficiencies, the budget also includes $42.7 million for INS Border Patrol facility construction and to enhance the resources of county prosecutors located on the southwest border. These are state/county prosecutors. Our 2002 request includes $50 million in assistance to those individuals to deal with the challenges they face.
The administration will propose splitting the mission of the INS in two, with separate chains of command reporting to a single policy official. I support this restructuring. I believe its time has come and look forward to working with this subcommittee as the proposal moves through the Congress.
The 2002 budget proposal appropriations request provides $4.2 billion for state and local law enforcement grant programs. Included within the request are newly-created initiatives or enhancements to existing programs to address specific crime problems. These proposals include an increase in Violence Against Women Act funding of more than 35 percent, expansion of the Weed and Seed program, more drug treatment in state prisons, increased assistance for state prosecutors and new gun violence programs.
Reductions are made primarily in four areas: One, the (burn?) discretionary grants; two, the state criminal alien assistance program; three, the local law enforcement block-grant program; and four, state prison grants. This redirection in funding will allow the department to fulfill its core law responsibilities, enforcement responsibilities, and to enhance key efforts in areas, including reducing gun crime, stopping violence against women, combating drugs, and guaranteeing civil rights for all Americans.
Chairman Gregg, Senator Hollings, I have outlined the principal focus of the president's 2002 budget request for the Department of Justice. I hasten to add that I'm still learning about many of the programs we have under the jurisdiction at the Department of Justice. You both have monitored spending in the department for quite some time and are expert in that respect. I have much to learn, and I look forward to your advice and counsel.
Thank you. I'd be pleased to be responsive, to the extent that I can, to questions that you might have.
SEN. GREGG: Thank you, Mr. Attorney General. I appreciate that statement. It outlined the proposals which you've come forward with. Let me ask you some specifics in some areas that we're interested in. You mentioned that you're going to propose the splitting of INS into two operating units. One would be the enforcement function. One would be the citizenship function.
Maybe you could give us a little more explanation, if you know yet, as to how you plan to structure those. Would the enforcement function be set up as an independent agency, such as FBI, DEA, or would it be still under an INS umbrella? Would the enforcement units be housed independently within the border, or would they be joined with other agencies that serve on the border? And what's the manning structure of the enforcement side? This committee has authorized and appropriated -- I guess we don't authorize; well, we do authorize occasionally -- (laughter) --
SEN. HOLLINGS: We have to for the FBI. We never have had authorization for the FBI.
SEN. GREGG: (Inaudible) -- to authorize for this committee, but we try not to. But we have appropriated for a significant number of Border Patrol individuals, enforcement agents. And unfortunately, we have not had the success in filling the complement. So I'd be interested to know where we stand in that area, too.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, let me begin with the last question. For some time, there was great difficulty in INS in attracting and developing the personnel to fulfill the charge of this committee, and we had appropriations for new people that we weren't attracting. I think we're solving that problem. We've made up for the backlog of the non-hires of last year, and we have a net new force of about 160 people so far this year, so that we're on track. And we feel like we're making that recovery.
That is important. It takes more than mere appropriation. It takes actual implementation. That's one of the reasons that we are and the president has focused on this agency. The news about INS has not always been as favorable as it should be and could be, and the president has signaled his very deep concern by indicating that he wants to divide these functions.
I don't think it's totally clear yet whether there would be a single reporting individual in INS or there would be a single reporting individual in the Justice Department outside of INS. What is very clear (is) that the functional separation is essential, that people in the enforcement responsibility have one mentality and the people in the service area should have another mentality and another approach. And the president is committed to, I think, achieving this kind of separation of function.
We are working to attract the very best-qualified individual to run the Immigration & Naturalization Service. It must be an individual of tremendous skill, administrative vision and a capacity to inspire a workforce of over 30,000 individuals.
In terms of the deployment of the individuals on the border, I think there are some ideas, frankly, which come from this committee which I think have great value, and that is at least to seek to find ways to elevate the amount of communication between the enforcement arm of the INS and other enforcement agencies, whether it be the DEA or other personnel in the area. And so it may be that the physical surroundings that locating INS agents who are in the enforcement business, in proximity to drug enforcement officials and other individuals with law enforcement responsibility, would have a way of enhancing or elevating our capacity to get our job done well.
The slate is substantially open on INS. I think the president has acknowledged, did so when campaigning for office and has reaffirmed it since he's been in office, that this is a matter of great priority. We need and can do a better job and look forward to doing a better job. And I think, in shaping that, I would hope that this committee would be very active in helping us get the best possible structure in personnel.
SEN. GREGG: Well, I know you haven't had a chance yet, and I understand you're headed down to the border fairly soon. But I think one of the things you're going to notice when you get there immediately is that the facility situation is a disaster. We've got literally -- because we've increased the number of personnel on the border, we've got old taco stands where we've got -- which should house about 20 or 30 people, with many more than that.
And we've got about a $1.5 billion backlog in facilities at INS in construction needs; most of it, border construction needs for housing Border Patrol. And it's very hard for the Border Patrol to do an effective job if they don't have the facilities. Now, I noticed that in your budget you're talking about $128 million, or something like that, for new facilities within INS. This committee will probably want to find more money for facilities. If you've got suggestions for where we should take it from, we'll be happy to listen to them. But I do think facilities, and you're going to sense this fairly quickly, run along with the personnel. As we had these personnel, we haven't had the facility reconstruction.
SEN. HOLLINGS: General, welcome.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you.
SEN. HOLLINGS: I understand this is your first hearing. And while I didn't support your nomination, you and I have got to work together for the good of the government. And taking that up where the chairman was talking about the INS, as we were talking a minute ago up here, you've got to get somebody who's really strong in there.
It's not so much just the division. I'd be hesitant about dividing and reorganizing and everything else. Rather, I would try to organize what's there. It's the biggest backlog. You ask for an answer, and they say you'll get something six months from now, and that kind of thing. And that isn't just recently. I've been and the distinguished chairman has been on the committee here for years, and this was five years ago, four years ago, right on through the '90s, and everything else of that kind.
We tried our best. We've been putting all the money there, but we haven't gotten any results, and it's just -- and the growth industry here in law enforcement ought to be watched carefully by you as the attorney general in the sense that I think -- well, I know just about 10 years ago your budget was $4 billion, and now it's $24 billion. I mean, it's this run on health costs and law enforcement costs are erasing this line to see who can consume us first.
But look at that INS very, very carefully. And you'll have our cooperation, because we've been sort of nags trying to get it cleaned up. Expedite it. So -- and I can't see why all the hold-up. At the Border Patrol, we've got a Border Patrol school. We put out about 3,000 Spanish-speaking agents down at the old Navy Yard. We had the facility, so we just put them in there on a crash basis. And it's worked extremely well; they're very happy. And they've gone down, and three or four have already been killed in line of duty and everything else of that kind. So it's working, that part. But it's the actual bureaucracy, citizenship and immigration, that's the backlog.
Otherwise, with respect, I'm sure you saw the morning story about tobacco. Now, knowing you, because I've worked with you on the Committee of Commerce, for example, on tobacco -- and you're a very strong-willed person, and I understand a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. Your opinion, while we had 19 of us on the committee, proceeding and voted to proceed on the tobacco case, you were the one dissenting vote. Is it your opinion that we ought to proceed with the case or not proceed with the case?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Let me clarify my position expressed in my vote on the Commerce Committee. That was not an opinion expressed on this case. That was expressed on a settlement, a global settlement that would have given the federal government and state governments together a settlement of the case. This case was a subsequent filing, I believe.
My opinion on this case -- first of all, this is an ongoing matter of litigation. Our budget request on this case is exactly the same budget request as was fashioned and submitted by Mrs. Reno in anticipation of the year 2002. It is identical to the budget request which she submitted as well for the year 2001. It's for $1.8 million to continue the case. It is in anticipation, in the event that the needs arise and all, that additional funding would be available for the case in the way that it has been in the past.
There are a number of issues pending in the case. There were three aspects of the case that were submitted to the court originally. Two of them were dismissed by the court. One of those two dismissals (has sought?) to be remedied by the department. It is the department's position that it can be remedied and is now pending decision by the court. The other, the RICO provision, the ruling on the original motion to dismiss, it's my understanding, has not yet come forward.
A decision about the position of the Justice Department in terms of any change that would be made, in my judgment, would be a decision best informed by what the court does with the two pending matters before the case now. And the decision and the position of the department have remained unchanged in this litigation.
SEN. HOLLINGS: Well, now, going back to the Commerce, that's exactly what intrigues me in the sense that we woke up one morning three years ago in June and there was a headline of a figure that I had never heard of, $368 billion. And the $368 billion was a settlement amount that the tobacco companies, the White House, the health communities and the attorneys general, which you were a former attorney general, had all gotten together on.
And, of course, watching that case as it developed and everything else like that, we found, of course, that the government here couldn't confirm it. The Congress didn't confirm it; let me put it that way. But the states' attorney generals went forward with the health community and everything else, and they got $206 billion of that $368 billion. They got $206billion settlement.
Separate and apart from -- I think it was three states that preceded them -- Florida, Texas and Minnesota -- amounted to about $40 billion. So let's say it was $246 (billion) of the $368 (billion) agreed to and settled and now in (the courts?) being distributed. That left $122 billion on the table. And I'm saying, look here, I'm (for?) the government. I'm a United States senator. I'm up here with the Justice Department appropriation and everything else of that kind, so I've already got $122 billion that the companies, the defendants, have already agreed to pay. They just want to know when and how. And, yes, there's been a struggle to bring that case with this particular committee and full committee -- because there's been a party vote right down the line. I made the motion that we proceed with the case and my Republican colleagues voted no, not to proceed. And so we finally -- the distinguished chairman and I got together on a compromise. As you indicate, it's the same. Now, when you say it's the same, that's just -- the former attorney general -- they were ready to bring the case and they were in the process of doing so, and they were using a section of the statute whereby they charged the various departments for the amounts of money in order to finance it. So, having said that, again, I just wonder what you think. Are you for the case or against the case?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: The Department of Justice is proceeding with the case, and I support the department's position. I think that we have made the right kind of request, and have the same identical structure which my predecessor had asked for in the appropriation. And so the capacity to proceed with the case exists in the department in the same it would have in previous setting, and would have in this setting had the election been different.
SEN. HOLLINGS: Well, there is a difference there, the department and your request in the sense that the memo says it's been reported that they voted $67.6 million more in order to proceed with the case, and not have to charge the various other departments of government. That's 57 million is not in there. Do you favor a request for more monies to finance the case or not?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: The budget submission, which we have made, we believe is the right approach to preserving the appropriate prerogatives of the department in this matter.
SEN. HOLLINGS: Well, then I will have to sort of backtrack with respect to that 57 million in accordance with your comment about the competence. Of course the former assistant attorney general said he thought they were very competent. But I understand by the headline you are reassigning the attorneys for lack of --
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: First of all, sir, I have not read the newspapers this morning. I have --
SEN. HOLLINGS: That's not your story then?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: I have not made any indication about any reassignment of attorneys. I have not made a decision about the case. The department has a position in this case, and I believe that if we were to reevaluate that position it should be based upon what the courts do in response to the matters that are pending on the court. As I indicated earlier, the court has twice dismissed counts in this case filed by the federal government. One effort has been sort of reconfigured by the department and resubmitted. A motion to dismiss is pending in that matter, as is a similar motion as it relates to the RICO matter, which was not ruled on originally by the court. I believe that an appropriate time for decision-making in the case would be upon an understanding of what the court's disposition of these motions is.
SEN. HOLLINGS: I understand -- general, and I am not trying to harass you. In fact, I agree with you that there is something about the competence that raises a question when they ask for $57.6 million. Now financially that's a pretty good expenditure, if you can spend $57 million and get back $122 billion -- that's a pretty good investment that the companies have already agreed to pay. They just want to know when and how. But otherwise, to spend $57 million -- I can't imagine 57 lawyers with a million dollars worth of hours a year. I mean, I'd go and investigate that memo in your own department, because they are incompetent if they think it costs that much to bring the case. The records have been made in the Minnesota case, in several other cases, in the Florida case, the Minnesota case and others, where it is all just laid out and that's the bureaucracy of law practice today -- you just punch your secretary until you get interrogatories number one through 25, and get the motion for all of these depositions -- just get the Minnesota depositions and the other depositions, and let's put out the subpoenas and let's go with the thing. I can do that in an afternoon myself. So to spend $57 million traveling all around the country and all like that, that's just trying to bureaucratize a case that has already been made, the amount has been agreed to, and all you have got to do is fill in the blanks. So I hope that you proceed with the case.
And there was some difficulty in getting the money from the other department, but I don't mean to belabor it, but I think in the government's interests there's $122 billion already agreed to sitting on the table. And I can't see for the life of me not picking it up. And your department, and you're the attorney general that wants to do that, I would imagine.
Now, general, let me ask you about the community gun prosecutors, because I noted in the budget here where you zeroed out the community and gun violence prosecutors, but placed in lieu thereof state and local gun prosecutor program and Southwest border prosecutor initiative with the same amount of money. And I -- my Republican friends opposed that Clinton program of gun -- community gun violence prosecutors, but it looks like you've got the same thing, or am I right or wrong? Just clarify that for me please.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, we do have an emphasis on prosecuting gun crime. It's a substantial emphasis and it involves increased resources. It includes a special emphasis on both juvenile gun crime, and it includes a trigger locks program, and it includes special assistance to prosecutors along the Southwest border in the amount of $57 million I believe it is for prosecutors along the Southwest border. So there is an array of service and ideas in this budget, designed, one, to prosecute violent gun crime generally; to focus on juvenile gun crime; and, three, to focus resources along the Southwest border where problems have been intense.
SEN. HOLLINGS: The problems have been more so on the Southwest border than say downtown New York or California?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, the entire prosecutorial load has been great there. There is a proposal for a whole new range of judges and all in the federal system, which is also at the jurisdiction of another -- it's the subject of another debate, and with the idea that the courts are overloaded there dealing with these problems along the Southwest border. INS for example has processed more cases in the last seven years than they did in the previous 40 years, and that's part of this whole situation we described where the budget of the agency has been doubled in the last six years, and we have still got these very serious problems, including delays in services that should be made to individuals who are relying on the agency.
SEN. HOLLINGS: Well, it's not necessary now, but you can submit for the committee the number of prosecutors and how that is supposed to work.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: I'd be happy to do so.
SEN. HOLLINGS: Yes, sir, I'd appreciate it.
And finally let me just counsel with you with respect to the faith-based programs. That immediately raises a sort of sign, stop, look and listen for this particular Senate that you and I have been up here. As senators we travel. If we learn anything in the travel and looking at other countries and keeping up with the news and so forth, the greatness of this land is the separation of church and state, in contrast to the trouble in Ireland it is religious-based, trouble in the Mideast is religious, the trouble in India is religious, the trouble in the Philippines is religious. I can go right around the world. I can just say, well, thank heavens we've got the separation of church and state in this country of ours. So when you get church -- I don't go along with this Mickey Mouse wording of things. In other words, you're saying church organizations. Now, you and I have got the greatest respect for the church and its organizations, and we have worked with them, both of us, in public life and everything else, and they work good.
Having been on the committee, I can tell you the experience we have when Chairman Gregg and I go over on the House side. The first thing they want to do is knock out everything that's not authorized. That's one good way to get rid of everything -- unless they've got an authorization for it, because the Judiciary Committee upon which you served, and everything else of the kind -- I mean, you know the backlog of things that get backed up on account and guns and abortion and prayer in the schools and everything else of that kind, the authorizing bills don't get through. And Chairman Gregg and I sitting there trying to backstop the real needs and do the right thing.
This hasn't been authorized, and we don't know exactly how it is to be done. That's why I held up on a reprogramming request by the White House -- not that I am hostile or anything else. I have grave misgivings -- I've got to be convinced. I'm from Missouri -- you've got to show me. (Laughter.) So I'd like for you to show me, and give us also an outline of those particular facets of this faith-based thing. I mean, we had the announcement by the president and the PR and everything else, and meetings with different church groups coming in and out and everything else of that kind. But there have been all kind of questions: Is this a legitimate church group? How much money? How is it to be monitored? Then on the church side -- wait a minute, if you start monitoring me and telling me from Washington how to run my church program, wait a minute -- I'm not going along with that. So you have got to involve much of just what you and I are trying to avoid. So if you can outline that for us, I am not in favor of these monies until we get at least some outline of what's intended and what the president and what the program entails.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, Senator, thank you very much. The House and Senate, together with the president, the previous president of the United States, have authorized I believe on several occasions, both in the temporary assistance to needy families legislation and in the SAMHSA reauthorization last year substance abuse and mental health, and I think community development block grants, what they would characterize I think as a field-leveling situation, which just basically says that there are certain aspects when states choose to do business outside of their own governmental entity, they have the opportunity to make contracts with entities including -- there wouldn't be a disqualification for a faith-based organization.
There is a very serious set of safeguards, and they have to be scrupulously observed, or else the problems that you have suggested I think are very serious problems and could be. One of the safeguards included in the legislation is that no person who has simply any discomfort in receiving a benefit in that setting is forced to receive it. They have a total right to say, I want a benefit in a different setting. Another safeguard is that the money can't be used for religious purposes. It can only be used to achieve secular purposes. This is in accordance with the supervision -- the way the courts have written these rules.
Now, we have had faith-based organizations active in a long time in some areas of social services, primarily in theresettlement areas related to INS and citizenship. And those areas have had historic involvement, and it's been successful, and we haven't had any inappropriate entanglement or inappropriate infringement of the rights of individuals or entanglement by the government with the institutions. I think those are the sort of patterns that need to guide us as we move forward.
SEN. HOLLINGS: Give us the guidance as we move forward. That's what I am asking for -- just outline it, the different things you seem to understand and know about right quickly off the cuff. But if we have it down in black and white so everybody can understand it, I'd appreciate it.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: I'll be happy to work with that and to do that, to send you the guidance and the safeguards that we believe are appropriate.
SEN. HOLLINGS: Finally, Mr. Chairman, with respect to an opportunity, we have worked with the FBI and their schools -- one in particular in Budapest that I have gone over and gotten into. We look upon Mexico now as an opportunity with a new president. We are thinking about law enforcement rather than what you have had to put up with at the Border Patrol and everything else like that where the Mexican law enforcement paid off part of the drug cartel, and everything else of that kind. If we could get a professional school in Mexico that was conducted by our FBI -- we do that in Europe at Budapest, where particularly this newly-made Russian or Soviet law enforcement -- why not try to professionalize that, so -- that would be a good investment -- wouldn't be too much, would help bring confidence on both sides. And look into that, because I'm determined to try to get some aid down there to Mexico in the sense that -- not an overall big Marshall Plan, but where we can get things to help this fellow catch up ball being played and get real law enforcement and everything else. That's to our benefit. I think it would be a good investment. And I'd like to get your views over at the FBI.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Senator, let me just say to you that I think we do have an opportunity as it relates to Mexico. President Vicente Fox and our president have a good relationship. I think there is a very serious commitment to changing the climate for law enforcement. President Bush has asked that Secretary of State Colin Powell and I be involved in a working group with the leadership in Mexico, with Castenada and with Aguilar Zinser. Aguilar Zinser is in charge of all their law enforcement, including the military, and we have already begun to confer about things.
There is a new understanding I believe in Mexico that what happens at the border is -- I think they are willing to call it a shared responsibility. And it had been long the position of those in our neighboring country that it was all our responsibility and none of theirs. And we have conferred about inventorying the kinds of things that each of us can do to promote a better situation at the border.
I personally believe this is a great opportunity. I believe we would very ill served not to view it as one, and I intend to invest myself substantially in it. My first trip outside the country will be to Mexico -- probably within the next 30 days. I intend to visit the border in advance of going there, so I will have a first-hand view of things at the border before I go to return the visit of the Mexican officials which -- and their attorney general has also come to see me, in addition to these other responsibilities -- other officials that have discussed these opportunities, because this is so very important to the United States. And if we can upgrade substantially the outcomes of our relationships and work together on the border, I think it will not only affect that long important border of the United States, the Southwest border, but I think it will have an effect into Central and South America in terms of our relationships.
So you are, I believe, right on target in identifying this as an important area of concern. It will be a matter of high priority with me in terms of the law enforcement community to cooperate with them. We would examine ways in which we could cooperate to improve both the training and integrity of the law enforcement community on both sides of the border. And I think the Mexican officials are conversant with that need and understand it, and their expression on the desire to cooperate on it is right in line with the kind of suggestions you've made.
SEN. GREGG: Thank you, Senator Hollings.
SEN. DOMENICI: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, Senator Hollings --
SEN. HOLLINGS: Good morning.
SEN. DOMENICI: Nice to see you.
SEN. HOLLINGS: I hope to get invited back. (Laughter.) He just said no, he's not going to invite me. You're a much better chairman. (Laughter.)
SEN. DOMENICI: Well, I'm amazed they sent all the conferees who were against it. There were 15 Democrats for it. If they send some of those conferees --
SEN. GREGG: The conferees right here -- we've got the vote. We're on the committee. We can conference it right now. (Laughter.)
SEN. DOMENICI: Well, the story in New Mexico is I kicked you out for it. Said I kicked you out.
SEN. GREGG: I didn't even make it -- (laughter) -- the first meeting.
SEN. DOMENICI: You weren't even invited. (Laughter.)
SEN. GREGG: You're doing better than I am.
SEN. DOMENICI: Well, Mr. Attorney General, I am very pleased to see you.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: I'm honored.
SEN. DOMENICI: I haven't seen you in this format since you achieved this new high status. I have just seen you in the hall a couple of times and at a couple of events. And first I congratulate you on the good job you are doing. And you went through a little bit of hard times to get it, but I am sure that you are enjoying what you are doing, and you see a great public service in what you are doing.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: It's a great honor to work for you, for the people of America and for this committee.
SEN. DOMENICI: I'm just going to talk about two areas, and perhaps submit some others for questioning, and I'll try to be quick.
Mr. Attorney General, we have an area of funding for a program called radiation exposure compensation program. That's not to be confused with a subsequent act which was passed regarding radiation exposure. This is the old act that covered uranium miners and the like, and we passed it. There are a number of people out there who are claimants, and there are a number who have claims -- and I don't know if you are aware of this -- this is a simple administrative process, these were not litigated claims. They didn't go to court. You all managed them. But there are a number of people who, believe it or not, have an IOU because the government didn't put enough money in the fund, even though it created the claims. And I guess I have to share with you, and to the extent that my fellow committee men are interested -- it's pretty disheartening for people who have waited many years for a radiation claim to get settled, and then you create an administrative process and you say they are entitled to -- and it's a fixed amount, so it's not $10 million -- it's $100,000 or whatever the claim is. And then they get it all finished, Mr. Attorney General, and it says the United States government should give you a check for let'sjust say $100,000, as your claim for dying of cancer or whatever. And then this great United States says we don't have money to pay your claim, so we'll give you an IOU. I don't think anybody wants those IOUs. I don't think they can go use them in banks. But essentially we ought to pay them. And I wonder if we have your wholehearted support to generate the funds to pay those claimants under the radiation exposure compensation program that you are managing.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: You do. I am chagrined at the way in which people have been dealt with. There was a - there have been inadequate funds, so people have been given IOU letters. There were inadequate resources at the department to answer the phones, so there were times when people were calling and the phone wasn't being answered. And we have made a request in the budget for some funds, but we also support the idea that the Congress has indicated to people that they are entitled to this amount of money and they're -- I believe the budget is predicated on a presumption that that entitlement exists and that those funds simply ought to be available to those people without the IOUs.
SEN. DOMENICI: Well, I thank you. And actually, we're looking for $84 million to finish that up. Then there's a whole new law which you all have supported funding under that will be handled in a different way which will indeed be an entitlement instead of what we've got.
Let me move for a minute to an issue that has to do with our ports of entry. First, Mr. Attorney General, I know it's not your precise duty, but it comes under your jurisdiction. You know, with the new arrangements, new enthusiasm for Mexican-American trade and the new president of Mexico being so enthused about being a partner instead of a critic, we have to take a look at the ports of entry in the Southwest. Mine is a little one, New Mexico, but all the way from Florida, Texas, Arizona, California.
The ports of entry are not in very good shape for two great countries to engage in the quantity and quality of trade we're going to be involved in. And I would hope that you would make sure that the estimates which have been given to your department that are saying what we ought to do to make all of the border states capable of handling the trade, so it isn't backed up hours, thus negating the enthusiasm for trade, or finding other ways to do it.
I hope you will support the reports which indicate this and that you will begin to implement it in your budgets in the future. Would you tell the committee that you will look at this carefully, to discuss it with the president with reference to what kind of plane could put in to get this work, this infrastructure, done in a reasonable time?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Yes.
SEN. DOMENICI: With reference to my own state, we have a port of entry, and I just want to mention it so you'll take it back to the office with you. It's a rather new port of entry called Santa Teresa. And we have -- that port is gaining trade and traffic, just as predicted. It's not in the middle of a city, where it's all clogged up. And as a consequence, we're building a piece at a time, and it's beginning to alleviate a lot of traffic and create its own trade area.
There's a considerable personnel problem there, and I wonder if you would have your staff look at it. I will submit some questions that will detail for you what we think are some deficiencies in the number of personnel at that border crossing for it to do an efficient and forthright job. So I'll give that to you. And if you would take a look or have your people take a look, I would appreciate it.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: I'd be very happy to do so.
SEN. DOMENICI: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. GREGG: Thank you, Senator. I've often thought that this issue of reimbursement for the harm it has caused people as a result of radiation activity might be more appropriately in the Energy Subcommittee. (Laughs.)
SEN. DOMENICI: Well, it's been in yours, and you have more money than the Energy Subcommittee does. (Laughter.)
SEN. GREGG: I just thought maybe we could find more in the Energy, don't you think?
SEN. HOLLINGS: Yeah, it sounds to me that way.
SEN. DOMENICI: We're trying to relieve you of it. We're trying to create an entitlement out of it so you won't have to bother with it, Senator. It'll just be there.
SEN. GREGG: I was wondering, Mr. Attorney General, if you could speak to us a little bit about the Office of Justice Programs, because we asked for a reorganization of that organization quite a while ago. The report was supposed to come up in December. Then it was supposed to come up at the end of March. We still haven't gotten the report. Can you tell us what's happening with the Office of Justice Programs?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: First of all, I think the expressions of the committee are well-founded. There is a need in that office to have good management. And the fact that so many of the people in the office are presidential appointments has, from time to time, I think, led to the idea that they don't respond to the management of the office and to the assistant attorney general in the office.
We are in the process of moving forward with the new organizational structure, streamlining, consolidating authorities and centralized management, which was directed in the Fiscal Year 1999.
Appropriations Act. In the fall of the year 2000, OJP began an inter- agency outreach to prepare agency personnel for implementation of the new organizational structure. We engaged the resources to provide OJP with assistance in projecting the potential workload of individual components, and we began developing the plan for reassigning OJP management administration funds to support implementation of the new structure.
The OJP assistant attorney general nominee, Deborah Daniels, has been made aware of this reorganization effort. And as I have been involved in the preliminary personnel decisions for all of those programmatic individuals to be appointed by the president, I have, eyeball to eyeball, said to them, "This is not the structure you can expect. There will be a new structure, and your structure is that you will report through the assistant attorney general in charge of OJP."
This is not to be thought to be sort of scattered management. This is to be focused, and that there will be a new plan and full implementation of the plan has been put on hold until the new assistant attorney general and her management team have an opportunity to be involved with it. But it is part and parcel of the way we are staffing and developing the staffing needs for that area and interviewing people, with an expectation that the new organization will serve the department and America much more effectively.
SEN. GREGG: So when will we get the report?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: (Pause.) Senator, this sort of signals the fact that I've been there for less than 90 days. They tell me that the plan has been developed and submitted but that the implementation of the plan is yet to be fully undertaken. And I think what we need to do is to make sure that if it's appropriate, we'll resubmit what we have considered as the submission to the committee. And if you have further advice on the implementation, we'd be pleased to have it.
SEN. GREGG: We probably should sit down and talk about that. Our staff should. Are you familiar with the detentiontrustee issue that we have?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: I am somewhat familiar. And if you want me to sort of describe my familiarity, I'll kind of give you my sense of where we are on that.
SEN. GREGG: Well, our sense is that basically we've created a position without any authority.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Our view is that the detention, the pre- trial detention -- if we could call detention things that happen while rights are being litigated and incarceration, things that are -- the way we hold people after that -- in this detention responsibility, we have a lot of different agencies, whether it's the Border Patrol or the DEA or the FBI or all these multiple agencies. And we don't have the space.
The federal government has not had the kind of resources to place all these people, so we have been renting space from communities and from private providers; that we have found ourselves bidding against each other for this space, so that by having an uncoordinated approach to detention in the various aspects of the Justice Department, we find the DEA bidding up the cost for the Border Patrol or other entities. And the idea of having a coordinator, someone to oversee that and to put rationality into our process, is a good one. And it's my understanding --
SEN. GREGG: We agree with that. Our concern is that because they don't have the funding control, they really don't have the power to exercise coordination. But as long as the funding control stays with the (OPE?) or with marshals or with whoever is putting out the INS, your detention trustee basically is an individual who can desire to create continuity and keep costs down but has no practical ability to do that because they don't control the money.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, we are pursuing the hiring of the trustee. And frankly, while the funding control perhaps does exist in these other entities, as attorney general, I would expect, to the extent that I could, from the perspective of the office, to direct that the Bureau of Prisons and a variety of other entities that might be involved -- you mentioned BOP -- that they respond constructively to suggestions by the detention trustee.
Now, if there's a need for -- and certainly the detail of my understanding here is obviously -- the absence of detail is apparent from my remarks. But I would hope that, as attorney general, that I would be able to instruct cooperation, even if we didn't have all of the framework in place, and obviously be very pleased to work with this committee to develop, if necessary, on an incremental basis, the framework that would provide real teeth or a real management capacity for the trustee.
SEN. GREGG: Do you have any further questions?
SEN. HOLLINGS: Thank you. General, as you look at the reorganization of INS, I've always thought that if I had your job, the first thing I'd look at is the reorganization of the DEA, and let me tell you why. You have a hard time keeping the FBI in country, because they can find crime in downtown Moscow, and they're here, there and yonder, and everything else of that kind.
The DEA -- on this committee for 30-some years, we burned the poppy fields in Turkey and broke up the factories in Marseilles. We went down into Paraguay, back up to Colombia, down into Paraguay again, up into Mexico. And we chased around and around, and it gets worse and it's worse and it's worse. And when Senator Domenici mentioned the port of entry, Senator Graham and I, Graham of Florida, and I have been working for a year, and we'll probably get that bill passed this year.
With respect to the regular sea ports of entry, I've got, for example, the fourth-largest container port. It wasn't until in recent years that I've learned that these containers come in. They're owned by Hong Kong, London, or mixed ownership, and everything else; no responsibility for them. And when they come across the dock, nine out of 10 are not even looked at. In fact, I've got my office at the custom house at the Seaport of Charleston, and the DEA -- I know you don't have the - it's a joint responsibility of the Customs -- and they all blame each other -- the INS, the different other entities down there with the Treasury Department, the DEA and the Coast Guard.
But you do have the DEA, and the DEA has to borrow a local sheriff's dogs to do the sniffing. Now, jump fast-forward to Amsterdam. You go through a regular screen when you go and I go through the airport. Going out to St. Louis, you've got to go through a screener. And they've got that screening system and everything else like that. We've got to get that at the various ports, because if I got into the drug business down in Colombia, I'd just load up 10 containers, knowing that nine of them would get through. I don't give a durn about the one that they got caught. That's how the drugs are getting into the country.
In contrast, we've got the DEA down the rivers in Bolivia, shooting down planes in Peru and jumping all around the world. And I've seen them jump around the world for 30-some years up here, and it gets worse and worse. And they don't have anybody down on 14th Street, the District here, and you can go down and get whatever you want.
So let's sort of get that thing organized so we can get some drug enforcement at least in the country. We can find drug abuse the world around. We all know it. And we're financing it. The United States is the biggest financing of the drug crime in the world. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We ought to be sharper with respect to enforcement, drug enforcement. We ought to at least get the home plate enforced before we run around shooting down planes in Bolivia and everywhere else like that. (Where was?) the CIA, for goodness' sake? Come on. This country has gone amok. They're not doing a good job at home plate. And in addition to the INS, look at that DEA and see what you think.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. HOLLINGS: Yes, sir. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. GREGG: Senator Inouye.
SEN. DANIEL INOUYE (D-HI): I thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I wanted to come by to greet my former colleague.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you very much.
SEN. INOUYE: Welcome, sir. I just want to have some clarification in articles that have been appearing recently in our papers. Is there a change in policy on our government's suit against tobacco companies?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: There has been no change in policy. The appropriation requested this year is identical to the appropriation requested last year and is, in fact, identical to the appropriation submitted by my predecessor, Ms. Reno, as attorney general for this year's operation.
SEN. INOUYE: That would, I think, clear up a lot of misunderstanding that is now found in the Senate, I can assure you.
Secondly, on the matter of judicial appointments, the word "consultation" -- how do you interpret this word "consultation"?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: That question has a superficial simplicity about it that belies the fact that it's complex. But obviously if you were to ask me what "consultation" means, it means talk with, communicate with about something; to consult. It means to share information.
SEN. HOLLINGS: So it's much more than notifying you after it appears in the press?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: I would hope that "consultation" would include timely communication.
SEN. HOLLINGS: I appreciate that, sir. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. GREGG: Thank you. Any further questions? Well, we appreciate your time, Mr. Attorney General. We look forward to working with you over the next few years, and we expect the relationship to be constructive -- not only from our committee's standpoint, but for America's standpoint. Thank you very much.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you very much. I am honored to appear before you and look forward to working with you. Thank you.
SEN. GREGG: The next hearing will be on Tuesday -- of this committee will be on Tuesday with the secretary of Commerce, Don Evans.