Pubdate: Sun, 12 Feb 2006
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Page: E - 7
Copyright: 2006 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Debra J. Saunders


IF YOU want to understand how difficult it is to cut the federal 
deficit -- it will surpass $400 billion in the 2007 budget -- take a 
look at the Byrne grants. Named after New York City police officer 
Edward Byrne, who was killed by drug dealers, the grants have 
provided about $500 million annually to local law-enforcement efforts 
since the program was signed into law by the first President Bush. 
Critics on the left and the right consider the program to be 
ill-conceived and ineffective, and they've urged Washington to 
eliminate the grants. But Congress keeps pouring millions into the program.

David Mulhausen, a policy analyst with the conservative Heritage 
Foundation, considers the Byrne grants to be mostly "pork projects." 
He sees "a big accountability problem."

Mulhausen is not alone. The White House Office of Management and 
Budget studied the Byrne grants and gave the program a 13 percent 
rating for results and accountability. That's an F-.

Last year, the National Taxpayers Union and Citizens Against 
Government Waste signed a letter urging congressional appropriators 
to eliminate the Byrne grants.

No such luck.

President George W. Bush, to his credit, has departed from his 
big-spending ways in seeking to reduce -- and now to eliminate -- 
Byrne grants, as part of the administration's ongoing post-Sept. 11 
effort to streamline U.S. Department of Justice funding in order to 
maximize the money spent on homeland security. According to the OMB, 
the Bush administration and Congress have reduced Byrne-grant funding 
by two-thirds since 2001.

Alex Conant of the OMB explained that "Federal law-enforcement funds 
need to be spent where they are most effective and Byrne grants have 
failed to demonstrate significant effectiveness."

Tom Finnigan of Citizens Against Government Waste noted how the 
administration has tried to figure out which programs don't work and 
de-fund them -- "and yet Congress earmarks these funds every year, 
year after year."

And: "If (members of Congress) can't cut programs that are 
ineffective and wasteful, then it just shows they are incapable of 
spending restraint." Too true.

That's the problem. Columnists and fiscal watchdogs all agree that 
federal spending is out of control. Democrats are having a grand time 
slamming Bush for his big spending, but as soon as Bush tries to cut 
an actual program, it becomes a vital endeavor, the loss of which 
will be harmful to hardworking taxpayers.

Pork-happy lawmakers rush to defend the program. Sens. Tom Harkin, 
D-Iowa, Mark Dayton, D-Minn., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., all have boasted 
that they want to keep bankrolling Byrne grants. If you come from 
farm country, you talk like Leahy -- and hail the grants as important 
for "a rural state." Or you say that the funding is essential to 
fight methamphetamine abuse -- as Harkin and Dayton argued -- even 
though local officials are charged with enforcing those laws.

You would never guess that Byrne grants also funded bad law 
enforcement -- most notably the Tulia scandal, which began when Bush 
was the governor of Texas. A white investigator of a Byrne-funded 
task force testified against dozens of black residents in Tulia, 
Texas, for dealing cocaine -- they were convicted, even though no 
drugs were presented as evidence at trial. Later, Gov. Rick Perry 
pardoned most of the Tulia convicts and one-time defendants reached a 
$5 million settlement with local officials.

Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance, which opposes the war on 
drugs, believes that abuses such as the Tulia travesty occur when 
"the federal government is handing money out like candy," and there 
is no real accountability.

Piper also argues that "the war on drugs is an area that you could 
cut without political consequences."

Alas, there also are no real consequences, because Congress keeps 
sneaking the money back into the budget.

I would agree, except that the press releases sent out by 
Byrne-loving senators suggest that there is little upside in cutting 
drug-war spending.

As the National Taxpayers Union's Paul Gessing, noted, "The people 
who have the most at stake lobby very hard, whereas it's hard for the 
average citizen to keep track of this stuff."

I fault Bush for not vetoing his first farm bill, which enabled 
Congress' big-spending. Now that he is trying to do the right thing, 
he stands alone. If the president can't push Congress to kill a 
program that is 13 percent effective, then he can't cut anything, 
because there is no will to spend responsibly in Washington.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake