ASHCROFT restructures Justice Department to accommodate fight against terrorism

Thursday, November 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Attorney General John Ashcroft on Thursday unveiled a sweeping restructuring of the Justice Department to better position local FBI and immigration agents to combat terrorism.

Ashcroft called his five-year plan a ``wartime reorganization and mobilization'' and said it would shift 10 percent of the jobs in Washington headquarters to field offices around the country.

``The war on terrorism will not be fought in Washington but in the field by agents,'' Ashcroft declared in a speech in which he previewed the plan he was submitting to Congress.

Ashcroft said he was restructuring the FBI's counterterrorism efforts to better ensure prevention of attacks and toward that goal ordered law enforcement to better share intelligence.

He said he also wanted to root out waste and duplication in his department to free more money for the terrorism fight.

``We must protect Americans regardless of the level of resources provided,'' the attorney general said.

The FBI has already shifted resources to focus on investigating and disrupting additional terrorist attacks, though agents continue to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks and anthrax cases.

The Justice Department restructuring was in the works before Sept. 11, but after the attacks, Ashcroft made terrorism the department's top priority. He reiterated Thursday that the attacks altered the Justice Department's mission from enforcement to prevention.

Ashcroft also announced new performance standards to hold agents accountable for their work and promised improved recruitment and training for federal law enforcement.

Some lawmakers have complained that the FBI has devoted too many resources to dealing with such crimes as drug trafficking, bank robberies and environmental abuse that could be handled by other law enforcement agencies or local police.

The pressure has increased since the Sept. 11 attacks.

``The FBI should focus on investigating federal terrorism crimes and either end or scale back its involvement in a wide array of crimes,'' Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said in an Oct. 23 letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller.