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March 10, 2009 -- Open Salon (US)

Report: Drug Czar's Office Is Out Of Control

or The ONDCP Has Gone to Pot

By Chris Goldstein

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive


The National Academy of Public Administration recently issued a report on the infamous entity of Prohibition, the ONDCP. This is the throne-room of the Drug Czar, whose official title is the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

This young experiment in bureaucracy has been facing increased scrutiny from Congress as prohibition costs ever more billions of dollars. If the ONDCP were measured by any of the other government-accepted standards of performance and mission-success it would have been closed long ago.

But this strange incarnation of American policy is a powerful tool on the wall of the Executive Office of the President. It can and must change drastically under the new administration, and NAPA offers a blueprint. But any President would hesitate to willingly part with it completely; which is one of the few reasons it has survived.

Congress ordered this report from NAPA, so it does carry weight. If even half of the recommendations are followed, the ONDCP will indeed be a very different place. According to the Panel, it had better be.

The portrait painted in this report of the ONDCP makes for the most bone chilling horror for marijuana policy wonks. It turns out the biggest criticism of the ONDCP from other agency officials and those within government, is that it spends far too much energy on marijuana.

At the very beginning, the Panel observes in the report "A number of partner drug agency officials and other drug control stakeholders criticized recent Strategies for narrowly focusing on youth and marijuana to the detriment of other age groups and other illicit drugs, such as Methamphetamine."

There it is: In the plainest of English possible for the men and women of Congress, to whom this report was addressed. That sentence sums up the catastrophe of the ONDCP on America and a panel of experts in public policy who actually interviewed all of those officals and stakeholders compiled it.

According to the report, the ONDCP invested heavily in the scientifically false theory of "gateways" for "teens" and almost completely ignored adult substance use in the nation. The result is seen in spikes of meth and prescription drug abuse along with an increase in adult marijuana consumption.

Because of the ONDCP's tunnel-vision on cannabis they released less and less strategy. Their reports contained fewer and fewer pages. In one of the most macabre moves of any war they stopped releasing casualty data. The report shows that in 2002 ONDCP stopped even mentioning "incarceration" let alone quantifying it with data and tables. This saved a lot of space in their publishing.

Apparently the ONDCP even get the fundamentals of their office management wrong, deeply wrong. Some of NAPA's advice on employment practices:

"Create terms of office for Executive Resource Board members, Performance Review Board members, and Senior Performance Officials, who currently serve in these positions at the will of the Director"

It's good to be the King, I mean Czar huh?

Or how about this one, pointing to an almost paranoid subculture of entrenched political extremists:

"Ensure no political affiliation questions are included in the ONDCP student intern Application."

Wouldn't want any of Nader's Raiders around. It's always those meddling kids.

But the NAPA Panel's informed advice also hits to the core of the issue, the most pressing question of our times: How much does Prohibition Policy and Enforcement cost?

"RECOMMENDATION 3: The Panel recommends that ONDCP develop a comprehensive National Drug Budget Summary, informed by a multi-year Strategy, that incorporates the total estimated federal expenditures for all supply reduction; demand reduction; state, local, and tribal affairs activities; and other federal activities related to drug control."

Hold on a second, they don't even try already to figure all of this out? Well apparently something along those lines was indeed part of the unprecedented authorities and responsibilities heaped upon this amorphous group of 106 people.

The budgetary issues consumed an entire chapter of the NAPA report. Reading it one has some empathy for Presidents' vague understanding of the impact of Prohibition: Their own office failed to provide comprehensive numbers.

So what have the Drug Czars and their courts done with their Congressionally approved, Presidentially blessed wealth and power instead of compile critical financial data?

Here comes the part that can make you cry.

"While these disparate functions all fell loosely under the umbrella of ONDCP's mission, the organizational structure evolved into a disjointed structure with many small branches."

The picture here is of an ONDCP populated by a haphazard group of prohibitionists, each seeking to make noise and utilize their tremendous military manpower resources to follow their own whims of how to fight the so called war-on-drugs. Their only common interest seems to be using those resources against marijuana consumers. Their unprovoked attack on this large group of Americans has cost lives and families, let alone missed economic opportunities over generations.

This report may stand as the sharpest official critique of the controversial office. Most of NAPA' advice points to areas that the ONDCP needs to stop being involved with other agencies and public interactions. NAPA recommends many slices to streamline the office and put to better use its prodigious taxpayer dollars.

Someone will need to spearhead this effort. The current Police Chief of Seattle, John Gil Kerlikowske, has been spoken of as the next ONDCP Director. The Seattle Police have diligently followed a series of marijuana liberalization ordinances.

The Report lays out the challenge for the new Czar.

"The confirmation of a new ONDCP Director will likely raise philosophical questions such as:

* What is the best approach to drug control?

* What is the appropriate role of the federal government?

* What strategies and programs have worked best in the past?

* Should the federal government's policy on "medical marijuana" be revised?

* What is the proper balance between supply-oriented and demand-oriented programs?

* In addition, it is possible that the new President may have a different perspective on how ONDCP should be organized and staffed"

This booklet has hopefully been worn-to-torn by staffers in the Obama Administration. But will Congress and the President sit down to read this important Report? They should not ignore these pictures of their "war."

There certainly can be a peaceful end to this one too.


National Academy of Public Administration

Full NAPA ONDCP Report (pdf)

NAPA ONDCP Report Press Release (doc)

Also visit our "Studies & Reports" section.

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