Budget Cuts to Law Enforcement Are Penny Wise and Pound Foolish
The mandatory federal budget cuts to law enforcement known as sequestration can best be described as penny wise and pound foolish. Sequestration slashed funding to U.S. Attorneys’ offices without regard to the cost to public safety and the government’s bottom line. The current budget logic forgets that U.S. Attorney’s offices not only protect the public, but also collect more money on behalf of the American taxpayer than they spend.
Our nation’s U.S. Attorneys’ offices combat terrorism, organized crime, public corruption, fraud, violent crime, child predators and many other harms. For example, the South Dakota U.S. Attorney’s Office recently prosecuted some of the most dangerous child predators and methamphetamine traffickers in our region. Today, South Dakota leads the nation in the percentage of sex offenders and violent predators under active federal supervision. We also lead the nation in the number of individuals convicted for failing to pay child support. We have done all of this while never exceeding our budget. We have upheld the public trust.
The Justice Department includes the FBI, DEA, ATF, U.S. Marshals Service and federal prisons, as well as 94 U.S. Attorneys’ offices nationwide. Sequestration cut $1.5 billion from the Department of Justice budget for the 2013 fiscal year and will cut $2.1 billion for 2014. Since a hiring freeze was imposed in January 2011, DOJ has lost more than 3,200 employees due to budget constraints. To make ends meet, DOJ faces potential unpaid furlough days for its employees in 2014. Furloughs were avoided in 2013 by depleting reserve funds and repurposing money designated for training. Now that money is gone and cannot be used to prevent furloughs in 2014.
These dramatic cuts reduce our capability to handle complex cases and to secure collections on behalf of the taxpayers. Nationwide, U.S. Attorneys collected $13.1 billion in criminal and civil actions during 2012, more than six times the appropriated budget of the combined 94 offices for that year. With fewer lawyers and support personnel, our ability to collect fines and restitution for crime victims will be hampered.
By cutting the Department of Justice budget, sequestration is effectively reducing government revenue.
In addition to the financial impact, these across-the-board budget cuts also impede our ability to protect citizens and hold criminals accountable. With fewer employees, we will necessarily see an impact on criminal cases. The reductions are particularly problematic as we tackle resource-intensive and increasingly complex matters involving national security, cybercrime, corporate fraud, public corruption, health care fraud, organized crime and child exploitation. In South Dakota, we will soon be losing several of our most experienced federal law enforcement agents. Those are positions we won’t likely fill because of sequestration. In my office alone, the employee vacancy rate will soon be approaching 20%. Even if sequestration ended immediately, it would take us several years to replace the talent that has been lost by these blanket budget cuts.
I appreciate that budget cuts in many areas are often both necessary and valuable. But dramatically cutting law enforcement resources in South Dakota will reduce federal revenue and damage public safety. That type of cut is not wise or effective.