(CNSNews.com) – An FBI budget proposal to eliminate a seven year-old body designed to help counter gang activity is a “mistake” that will hinder efforts to combat violent gangs, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) told the bureau’s director during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday.
The same budget request that proposes closing down the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) states that gang activity in the U.S. is increasing the potential for “terrorism-related events associated with criminal enterprises.”
According to the NGIC’s latest annual gang threat assessment, about 1.4 million active gang members make up more than 33,000 gangs in the U.S.
“Gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and up to 90 percent in several others,” it says.
The FBI established the NGIC in 2005 at the direction of Congress to “help curb the growth of gangs and related criminal activity.”
Staffed by analysts from various federal agencies, the center outside Washington D.C. “integrates gang intelligence from across federal, state, and local law enforcement on the growth, migration, criminal activity, and association of gangs that pose a significant threat to the U.S.,” according to the FBI.Wolf, who chairs the subcommittee dealing with Department of Justice agencies, questioned FBI Director Robert Mueller about the decision to eliminate the NGIC. Mueller was testifying on the FBI’s budget request for fiscal year 2013.
Wolf said the proposal to close down the center contradicted Mueller’s assertion to the committee last year that the FBI did not “anticipate any diminished effort when it comes to addressing violent gangs.”
“To eliminate the office would be a mistake,” he told Mueller, predicting that the House Appropriations Committee would not agree to closing down the center.
The FY2013 budget proposal calls for the elimination of the NGIC, which it says “includes 15 positions (1 Agent, 13 Intelligence Analysts) and $7,826,000.”
The request says shutting down the center would not harm law enforcement efforts.
“The proposed elimination of the NGIC will not hinder the ability to examine the threat posed to the U.S. by criminal gangs; rather it will focus the sharing of intelligence at the field level, where intelligence sharing and coordination between DOJ agencies and state and local partners already exist,” it states. “The FBI will continue to produce intelligence products in support of Federal, State, and local investigations focused on gangs posing a significant threat to communities.”
Last November, Congress voted in favor of a spending reduction measure in the 2012 Appropriations bill that included a call to shut down the NGIC.
Wolf told the FBI director that he had heard opposition to closing the center from the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations and several state associations. He said those bodies contend that the NGIC “is the only federal agency that produces in-depth reporting on national gang issues and that the center analysis contributed not only to preparedness, but also to specific success or prosecutions.”
He dismissed as “absurd” the claim that shutting down the center would not interfere with the bureau’s ability to gather and analyze gang intelligence data at the national level.
“We received a revised version of your testimony late yesterday that the OMB [the White House’s Office of Management and Budget] inserted language making the absurd claim that the elimination of the National Gang Intelligence Center – $7.8 million and 15 positions – will not hinder the FBI’s ability to perform the analytical work done there,” Wolf said.
In response, Mueller testified that the FBI “will cover [gang intelligence-gathering] elsewhere. We will get the intelligence out and we have built up our intelligence capacity over a period of time.”
The NGIC comprises representatives from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Bureau of Prisons, United States Marshals Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Defense, the National Drug Intelligence Center and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Asked how the FBI planned to deal with information gathered by other agencies involved with the gang center, he replied, “We will reach out to them to incorporate what intelligence they have that should be included.”
Wolf asked Mueller, “Do you or does the FBI or Justice Department believe – as OMB seems to – that this same level of gang intelligence assistance will continue despite the elimination of the center?”
“I can say that we will attempt to reach the same level of capability than we had at the National Gang Intelligence Center,” the FBI chief responded.
Once the NGIC is terminated, Mueller said responsibility for producing the annual gang threat assessment will fall on the director of intelligence at FBI headquarters, who will combine information gathered from 56 field offices and field intelligence groups.
Wolf was skeptical. “I just think that would be very difficult with one million gang members,” he said.