Department of Justice is efficient, effective
Sen. Russ Decker claims (op-ed column, Page 8A Tuesday) that ďno other state agency has been given as many additional resources as the Department of Justice in the past few years.Ē This isnít true. One need only go back two budget cycles to find out that the percentage increase in the Department of Justiceís budget has been less than all state spending over that four-year period.
Itís true that I asked for substantial new funding for DNA resources in the last budget to address a problem neglected for too long. DNA evidence helps law enforcement and prosecutors catch and convict offenders. At my request, the Legislature and the governor doubled DNA resources to the Crime Lab. Last year, our DNA analysts worked almost four times as many cases as 2006. Thatís making taxpayer money count.
Itís also true that I asked for and received funding increases to the Department of Justiceís law enforcement unit that investigates Internet Crimes Against Children. With more state agents investigating these terrible crimes and more local law enforcement partners joining our task forceó87 now compared to 23 when I took officeólaw enforcementís web is growing, with more officers trained to help snare sex offenders. I donít think the public wants us to back down from protecting children by locking up those who would prey upon them.
Weíve been very effective and efficient at the Department of Justice. Not just by making our resources go further, but also by recovering more taxpayer money. For example, since I took office, weíve collected or are in line to collect about $30 million in judgments from our efforts to civilly enforce Medicaid fraud laws. This money, wrongfully taken from taxpayers, goes back to the state Medicaid Program. Putting this number in perspective, in 2006 the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit collected $437,000 through civil enforcement. This difference far exceeds any additions there have been to the Department of Justiceís budget.
I donít think Sen. Decker is saying that we should roll back the enormous improvements to the Crime Lab or step down our efforts to fight sex predators. As near as I can tell, heís arguing that because the Legislature and governor have partnered with me in the recent past to target these critical areas, the Department of Justice should receive a cut above and beyond what is given to other public safety agencies. Thatís absurd. Success with DNA analysis isnít a reason for cutting fingerprint analysis, impairing homicide or drug trafficking investigations, reducing support for local law enforcement to local prosecutors, or cutting environmental enforcement.
Good government requires efficiencies, regardless of the fiscal situation. Thatís why I returned $1.2 million to the treasury before these budgets were proposed. I will manage cuts in line with other public safety agencies. The Department of Justice, however, should be exempt from the extra cuts that are not proposed for other public safety agencies such as Corrections and district attorneys, and are not proposed for the state agency that receives our historic Medicaid fraud recoveries.
J.B. Van Hollen is Wisconsin attorney general. Readers can write to him at P.O. Box 7857, Madison, WI 53707-7857 or call (608) 266-1221. Web site www.doj.state.wi.us.