Trump Proposes Gutting Drug Czar’s Office

Published on May 5, 2017, By Tom Angell

Marijuana News Politics

A new memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) shows that the Trump administration is weighing formally proposing a nearly 94 percent cut to funding for the drug czar’s office.

The possible cut to the office, formally known as White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), would include the complete elimination of two major initiatives: The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program and the Drug-Free Communities Support Program (DFC).

Whereas the OMB memo says the cuts, which would need to be approved by Congress, will lead to a “smaller, more streamlined organization that can more effectively address drug control issues,” ONDCP’s acting director said in an email to staff that the move is “frankly heartbreaking” and “discouraging.”

Dear ONDCP FTE,

I’m afraid I have some news to share with you that is very discouraging for our Nation’s effort to address drug abuse, but more directly, to the dedicated staff of ONDCP. The information that is being shared with you is considered pre-decisional and should not be shared with anyone outside of the agency, including agency reps, detailees, contractors, interns, etc.

As you know, we are funded at our current level through September 30 of this year. However, the passback that was uploaded to MaxCollect by OMB reflects a nearly 95% reduction in ONDCP’s budget for FY 2018.

In addition to zeroing out our HIDTA and DFC programs, this passback allocates only $12,400,000 for Salaries and Expenses (S&E) – a decrease of $6,874,000 from FY 2017 – meaning we would be facing a Reduction in Force (RIF) and could lose up to 33 FTEs when factoring in lump sum payments for unused annual leave, severance pay, and unemployment benefits. OMB has proposed eliminating the Intelligence, Research, and Budget functions at the agency, as well as the Model State Drug Laws and Drug Court grant programs.

I have been encouraged by the Administration’s commitment to addressing the opioid epidemic, and the President’s personal engagement on the issue, both during the campaign and since he was sworn into office. However, OMB’s proposed cuts are also at odds with the fact that the President has tasked us with supporting his Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

These drastic proposed cuts are frankly heartbreaking and, if carried out, would cause us to lose many good people who contribute greatly to ONDCP’s mission and core activities.

I don’t want to see this happen.

I want you to know that senior ONDCP staff have engaged, and continue to engage, with senior leadership in the White House Office of American Innovation and in OMB to address our agency’s budget concerns. These conversations are ongoing. We hope to turn this around.

As I have said, this news is discouraging, and there is nothing I can say that will lessen its effect. At this point, I would encourage you not to panic, since these events are still unfolding. You are a highly trained and experienced group of professionals committed to dealing with a critical issue facing our country, and I am proud to have the opportunity to lead you. I know that you will continue to engage with our stakeholders and not lose sight of our core mission to address drug use and its consequences in the United States. I cannot say enough about how important each of you is in this regard, and I am very sorry about these developments.

I will keep an open dialogue with you and I plan to answer any and all questions and concerns, to the best of my ability, at Monday’s staff meeting.

Please accept my apologies for not delivering this difficult message in person. Do not hesitate to reach out to me directly between now and Monday, day or night, I will respond individually. I considered canceling the visit to NJ to meet with Governor Christie’s team, but I felt it was best to move forward with the work of the Commission to turn this epidemic around, as we concurrently work with our WH partners to preserve ONDCP and our programs, which will be critical in implementing the Commission’s recommendations. Additionally, today at 12:45pm, I will hold a conference call in the 5th floor conference room to discuss this issue and take questions.

Sincerely,

Rich

ONDCP is responsible for setting broad federal approaches to controlled substance policy and certifying the drug budgets of other agencies. It also has a mandate to oppose efforts to legalize marijuana.

The news about the proposed cut comes just days after Congressman Tom Marino (R-PA), who had been floated in the media as the Trump administration’s pick for drug czar, withdrew his name from consideration, citing family health issues.

The sequence of events raises questions about whether the White House had trouble convincing Marino, an ardent marijuana law reform opponent, to agree to oversee the effective gutting of the office after initially getting him interested in the job.

Kevin Sabet, head of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the nation’s leading anti-legalization organization, is not happy about the budget news, which was first reported by Politico and CBS.

The Trump administration recently launched a commission on opioid issues chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), and it has been reported that a new White House Office of American Innovation run by Jared Kusher, the president’s son-in-law, will also focus on drug policy issues.

HIDTA, one of the programs being targeted for complete elimination, is a law enforcement effort that focuses on interdiction and arrests in certain so-called “high-intensity” target areas of the country.

DFC, the other proposed cut, funds community groups across the nation that are ostensibly aimed at preventing substance abuse. Some of the organizations, however, have focused time and resources working to oppose marijuana policy reforms in their states.

“The HIDTA and Drug Free Communities grant programs, run by ONDCP, are a phenomenal waste of money that contribute to the incarceration and stigmatization of drug users, so their elimination is a welcome move,” Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement.

The OMB memo on cutting ONDCP is below, via U.S. News & World Report:

This post was originally published on May 5, 2017, it was updated on May 7, 2017.

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