WASHINGTON – The Bush administration wants to make more money available for two agencies central to the government's efforts to paralyze terrorists financially and to combat money laundering.
The president's budget for 2005 will seek from Congress increases of almost 13 percent for the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (search), known as FinCen, and of around 4 percent for the Office of Foreign Assets Control (search), called OFAC, the department said Friday.
"President Bush has reaffirmed the administration's commitment to aggressively fight terrorism on every front," Treasury Secretary John Snow said of the funding request.
FinCen analyzes and shares a network of financial information with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to help to investigate and track down terrorist financiers and money launderers. OFAC is responsible for ordering U.S. banks to block assets of suspected terrorist financiers and for enforcing economic sanctions against countries, such as Cuba, and against suspected drug overlords.
In a separate development Friday, Treasury announced it was adding Suleiman Abu Ghaith (search) to the government's list of suspected terrorist financiers, an action that will freeze any of his assets located in the United States.
Treasury described Abu Ghaith as the "official spokesman" of Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror group.
On the budget front, Bush is expected to send his spending plan to Congress on Feb. 2 for the 2005 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
It remains to be seen how generous the Republican-controlled Congress wants for the agencies' budgets.
There has been criticism by some lawmakers, including Republicans, about how OFAC does its job and how the Treasury Department handles the campaign against financiers of terror. Democrats complain about the administration's huge budget deficits, which the White House budget chief estimated will mushroom to $500 billion this year, a record in dollar terms.
FinCen's 2004 budget stands at $57.2 million, which the president wants to increase next year to $64.5 million, said FinCen's director, William Fox. The agency has 277 full-time employees, and the 2005 budget would seek to add 14 positions, to 291, Fox said.
Treasury officials had no details of how the roughly $7.3 million extra would be used. The department said, however, that some of the money would go toward making a secured, electronic system of financial records more widely available to law enforcement; designing a new system that would include advanced analytical tools; and hiring more people who analyze information and who deal with outreach and regulations matters.
For OFAC, the president's proposal would provide an extra $800,000 over its current budget of $21.7 million. Treasury didn't say how the extra money would be used.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the committee's ranking Democrat, sent a letter just before Christmas citing widespread misgivings about sloppy record keeping and lax enforcement inside OFAC.
A recent report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said Treasury needed to do a better job tracking the money that terrorists use to bankroll violence.