Administration of Justice

The cost of administering federal law includes funding for the judicial branch, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, financial and tax crime enforcement activities within the Department of the Treasury, and the operation of other independent agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Legal Services Corporation, and the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Most spending in function 750 is discretionary, and it has increased over the past five years at an average annual rate of 4.5 percent. The limited mandatory spending in this function has averaged near $1 billion each year. The exceptional year was 2004, when some $6.4 billion in victim compensation payments was recorded as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Spending for this function is projected to reach $45 billion in 2007, an increase of 8.9 percent over 2006.

    Average Annual
              Estimate Rate of Growth (Percent)
2007a 2002-2006 2006-2007
Discretionary Budget Authority  35.4 35.7 37.9 39.4 41.1 44.3   3.8   7.6  
  Discretionary 33.8 34.2 38.0 39.3 40.3 43.4   4.5   7.6  
  Mandatory 1.3 1.1 7.6 0.7 0.7 1.3   -13.4   84.1  
    Total  35.1 35.3 45.6 40.0 41.0 44.7   4.0   8.9  
a. Discretionary figures for 2007 stem from enacted appropriations for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and a full-year continuing resolution (P.L. 110-5) for other departments. Estimates for 2007 are preliminary and may differ from those published in the Congressional Budget Office's upcoming report An Analysis of the President's Budgetary Proposals for Fiscal Year 2008.

In addition to the law enforcement activities that the Department of Justice (DOJ) carries out directly, it provides various types of assistance to nonprofit community organizations and state and local law enforcement agencies, mostly in the form of grants. DOJ provides such assistance through five programs, each of which is funded in a separate account in the federal budget: State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance; Justice Assistance; Juvenile Justice; Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS); and Violence Against Women.

The assistance provided through those programs will total nearly $2.4 billion in 2007, a figure that has declined by about 20 percent since 2004. This option would further reduce such financial assistance by 25 percent, saving $113 million in 2007 and about $2 billion over the 2008-2012 period.

Grants provided through the five programs are used for a wide array of activities, such as the purchase of body armor and other equipment for law enforcement officers and the improvement of DNA analysis and other forensic activities conducted by state and local police agencies. Other supported activities include substance abuse treatment programs for prisoners; Boys and Girls Clubs; research, development, and evaluation of state justice programs; and the collection and analysis of statistics and information on the judiciary.

Critics of federal spending for law enforcement assistance argue that DOJ directs much of its funding toward problems that are not federal responsibilities. According to figures published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2003, state and local governments spent a total of about $150 billion on criminal-justice activities, whereas the federal government spent just $30 billion on those activities. Instead, critics say, the federal government should concentrate on the funding of national security efforts.

Critics also argue that resources are used inefficiently and that financial assistance could be scaled back substantially with little impact on the nation's law enforcement capabilities. For example, a recent report by the Government Accountability Office found that grants awarded through the COPS program made only a modest contribution to declines in crime in the 1990s.1

Opponents of the option maintain that the federal government plays a vital role in augmenting the resources of the states and in directing funds to areas of critical national need. In certain cases, they argue, the problems those funds address are national in scope; without the incentive of federal grants, the states might neglect such problems because of the scarcity of their resources. Therefore, those advocates assert, such federal assistance helps make the nation safer.


The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) was first authorized in 1974 as a private, nonprofit organization with authority to distribute grants to local entities that provide civil legal assistance to low-income clients. Today, the LSC awards competitive grants for one to three years to designated service areas covering the United States and its five territories. In 2006, the Congress appropriated a total of $327 million for the LSC.

Each year, the LSC's appropriations contain language restricting its use of funds for certain activities. Neither funds appropriated by the Congress, nor those otherwise generated, may be used for political activities, such as advocacy, strikes, or demonstrations; class-action lawsuits; client solicitation; or cases involving abortion, partisan redistricting, drug-related eviction, or welfare reform. Organizations receiving LSC funding also may not collect attorneys' fees or represent prisoners or illegal residents (except for victims of domestic or child abuse).

This option would terminate funding for the LSC beginning in 2008. That change would reduce discretionary outlays by $294 million in 2008 and by $1.7 billion over the next five years.

One rationale for eliminating funding for the LSC is that providing legal services to the poor is more properly a duty of state and local governments, which can be more responsive to local needs. In fact, programs receiving LSC grants already receive some resources from states, localities, and private entities, as well as from private attorneys involved in pro bono work. Moreover, critics of the program argue that, despite the restrictions already placed upon the LSC, the activities of legal-services lawyers too often focus on social causes rather than on meeting the needs of poorer people with routine legal problems.

Those in favor of continued support for the LSC argue that, despite funding from outside sources, contributions from the federal government represent over half of the funding for LSC grantees, on average, and remain the single largest and most important funding source for civil legal services nationally. LSC-funded programs resolve nearly 900,000 cases per year, over 60 percent of which involve family or housing law. Even so, LSC estimates that approximately half of those seeking legal assistance are turned away under current appropriated levels. Eliminating the LSC would remove a reliable source of funding for legal assistance for people with low incomes.

Government Accountability Office, Community Policing Grants, GAO-06-104 (October 2005).

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