Opening Statement of Chairman José E. Serrano at CJS Hearing on the Federal Bureau of Investigation
The subcommittee will come to order.
Good morning everyone, and welcome to a hearing to which the appropriate official shows up! This morning we welcome the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Wray, in his first appearance before the subcommittee to discuss the FBI’s fiscal year 2020 budget request and related issues.
Much of your budget falls on the defense side of the ledger, but the President’s efforts to increase defense spending do not seem to include your critical agency. Your fiscal year 2020 Salaries and Expenses request is only $65 million above last fiscal year, and includes some targeted investments, such as an additional $70 million for cyberthreats, $18.3 million for counterintelligence operations, and $4.2 million for the NICS. However, this increase is not enough to cover your new and continuing program costs without some significant “efficiencies” and cost-cutting. We hope to learn how you plan to make ends meet.
Director, you’ve testified before Congress on unprecedented threats from abroad and within from cyberthreats, espionage, and terrorism. The work of the FBI is extremely important in addressing these dangers, as well as white-collar crime, foreign election interference, civil rights violations, including voting rights and color of law violations, and much, much more. You also run our nation’s background check system - a vital oversight mechanism to ensure guns do not fall into the wrong hands.
We also want to hear how the FBI is applying lessons from the financial crisis ten years ago to target the type of white collar and institutional criminal activity that led to that economic disaster and help keep history from repeating itself.
And at a time when many communities suffer from rifts in trust with their law enforcement institutions, we would like to hear how the FBI is taking steps, both in its own culture and operations, and in working with law enforcement partners nationwide, to help bridge such gaps.
It is extremely important that you have the resources necessary to vigorously enforce the law in all these diverse areas, without prioritizing one at the expense of others. I have long been concerned about an over-emphasis on pursuing so-called “Islamic terrorism,” at the expense of important FBI missions like civil rights investigations and white-collar crime. My concerns have grown along with the rise of white nationalist extremism. White supremacist terror attacks in Pittsburgh, Charlottesville, and Charleston, have made headlines, and statistics show such attacks are on the rise; yet your budget request does not mention them. I realize the President minimizes this threat, but you should not, and I hope you can tell us more today about your work on areas outside of international terrorism.
Speaking of the President, I do not think that we can hold this hearing without addressing Donald Trump’s persistent attacks on your agency. The FBI has not faced this level of political threat since Watergate. No one on this Committee confuses honest criticism of your agency – which is healthy and necessary -- with insidious attacks on the reputation of the FBI workforce. These are poorly disguised efforts to undercut the legitimacy of an agency that must be free to enforce the law and the Constitution fairly and rigorously, without regard to politics or persons. It is deeply worrisome that with the variety of important missions you have, the President continues to focus on settling personal scores.
To add injury to insult, the FBI faced its longest lapse in appropriations in history, compelling you to tell your 36,000 employees you were, quote, “about as angry as I’ve been in a long time.” I can assure you, Director: every member of this Committee shares your feelings. I hope to hear today how the shutdown affected your operations, and why the FBI – and our whole criminal justice system – should not be held hostage again.
With that, let me turn to Ranking Member Aderholt for any opening statement he might have.
Congressman José E. Serrano has represented The Bronx in Congress since 1990.