National Security Front and Center at DOJ Budget Hearing

Senators on both sides of the aisle voiced concern about the cybersecurity threat facing the nation.

Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday. (Screenshot via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Attorney General Merrick Garland testified before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee late Wednesday on the Justice Department’s $35 billion budget request for 2022.

Addressing the panel, the attorney general recalled the words he told his employees on his first day in office: “All of us are united by our commitment to the rule of law and to seeking equal justice under the law,” he said. “We are united by our commitment to protecting our country, as our oath says, ‘from all enemies foreign and domestic,’ and by our commitment to enforcing our country’s laws and to ensuring the civil rights and the civil liberties of our people.” 

As part of that mission, he requested $35.3 billion for the 2022 fiscal year from Congress, up from $29.9 billion in 2020 and $28.1 billion in 2019. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

National security topped his list of priorities—and the Senate panel’s. The budget request included a 12% increase in last year’s budget—over $1.5 billion—to combat foreign and domestic terrorism, including an additional $101.2 million to address domestic terrorism in the wake of the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol complex. 

West Virginia GOP Senator Shelley Moore Capito expressed concern about the recent ransomware attacks that disrupted U.S. supply chains, such as the Colonial Pipeline attack that led to a national gas shortage. 

Referencing FBI Director Christopher Wray’s recent comment likening the seriousness of the attacks to 9/11, she asked what the DOJ was doing to stop the current onslaught and prevent more from happening in the future. 

But the attorney general wasn’t optimistic. The cyberattacks are getting “worse and worse and worse,” he said, and while the department is doing all it could to mitigate the threat, it continues to escalate, presenting serious national security risks. 

“You can imagine what would happen if we had multiple attacks at the same time on even more fundamental infrastructure,” he said. 

The proposed budget includes $1.1 billion devoted to fighting cybercrime, a $150.6 million increase from last year. 

Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, took a different approach to security concerns. First, she asked the attorney general how he intended on dealing with the privacy breaches at the IRS, after ProPublica published a vast collection of tax documents from the super-wealthy this week.

Garland said that he doesn’t have any immediate plans, but he had read the piece and found it “astonishing.” He called it “an extremely serious matter” and assured her IRS leaders are looking into the breach.

“This was on my list of things to raise after I finished preparing for this hearing, and I promise you it will be at the top of my list,” he said.

Collins also said that she’d heard stories from police precincts that allegedly had trouble recruiting, hiring, and retaining police officers due to recent calls from activists to defund their departments, creating what they considered to be a hostile work environment. 

Garland replied his department is prioritizing, not defunding, law enforcement.

“No one could look at the Justice Department budget that we put in front of you and think the Justice Department supports defunding the police,” he replied. 

The proposed budget includes $651 million to invest in the agency’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, and $537 million—an increase of $300 million from last year’s budget—towards a hiring program administered by the office. 

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