Senator pursues earmarks for FBI expansion in Alabama

Effort would steer millions of dollars to facilities in Huntsville.

Senate Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., is attempting a major expansion of the FBI in his state, earmarking millions of dollars for Huntsville facilities the White House did not ask for.

Similar efforts have not been seen since the early 1990s, observers say, when Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., moved a large chunk of the FBI to his home state.

Since becoming the subcommittee's chairman two years ago, Shelby has used his clout to steer potentially more than $100 million in law-enforcement infrastructure funds to the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville -- not just from the FBI budget but also the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Earmarking funds within those accounts is "unusual," according to current and former congressional staff, especially for major new construction that has not been requested.

The fiscal 2007 budget process won't be resolved until after the November elections, but if history is any guide Shelby will see at least some success. "Richard Shelby usually gets what he wants," said one former appropriations aide familiar with the Alabamian's years of largess.

Shelby said his law-enforcement earmarks do not compare to Byrd's, which were widely criticized at the time as an abuse of his perch. "It would be very small compared to that," Shelby said.

Byrd's work to move FBI operations, including a sophisticated fingerprint data center, to Clarksburg, W.Va., resulted in jobs for about 3,500 people.

Such calculations were no doubt a factor in Alabama, also a poor state. Redstone Arsenal has seen rapid growth from its roots as the Army's missile and rocket program center in the 1950s. Now the installation houses a massive population of government workers and contractors.

Along with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Redstone has seen federal investment of more than $2.5 billion, according to Shelby has been instrumental in much of the growth in recent years, and a missile intelligence building at Redstone is named after him.

The arsenal is already home to the FBI's Hazardous Devices School. Shelby earmarked $15.1 million in the fiscal 2006 subcommittee bill for planning, design and construction of an FBI Center for Training and Technology Transfer at Redstone. It aims to provide "secure space, classrooms, and practical problem areas for both FBI personnel as well as state and local bomb technicians," according to a press release.

That bill also contained $5 million for ATF to initiate a site selection process for a new National Center for Explosives Training and Research -- with the understanding that the site would be Redstone Arsenal. Shelby then included $30 million in the Senate version of the fiscal 2007 bill to build the center, which has been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee but is awaiting further action.

An ATF official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because his views are at odds with the Office of Management and Budget's budget request, said he was delighted by the addition. The official said the agency has been seeking to enhance its abilities to investigate bomb-making and explosives, in part to help U.S. troops in Iraq guard against roadside bombs.

"Sometimes to advance progress you have to throw a little money at it," he said, adding that Redstone was "a good fit" because of all the other federal facilities located there.

Also in the fiscal 2007 bill, Shelby included $30.4 million to go toward a new FBI forensic science training academy. Another $28 million is for a regional computer forensics laboratory, which will "expand and enhance the FBI's investigative forensic processes capability as it relates to digital evidence," Shelby's press release states.

The FBI referred inquiries to the Justice Department, which did not protest despite the funds not being included in its official budget request. "The Department does not object to proposed projects that can enhance the FBI's capabilities and their investigative mission," a Justice spokesperson said.

While lawmakers have sought to keep the FBI's budget relatively clean of earmarks in recent years, Shelby is not entirely alone. In the fiscal 2006 bill, House Science-State-Justice Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf, R-Va., included $10 million to build a central records complex in his Northern Virginia district, for example. Although no funds were requested in the White House budget, the FBI had approved the site in early 2004.

Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., former chairman of the Commerce-Justice-Science panel, said he mostly avoided large building earmarks during his tenure but that some earmarks are inevitable.

"The FBI is not as pure an agency as we'd like. Very honestly, we've had to give them some specific direction, particularly in the technology area," Gregg said. "But if they're going to stand up a center on, say, chemical or biological weapons protection, and they're going to build a building and put a staff in it, it would be unusual if the Congress didn't want to give them some thought as to where they'd want to put that building and staff it."