President Trump’s administration has proposed to slash 95% of the White House “drug czar’s” budget, essentially diminishing the decades-old Office Of National Drug Control Policy, the authoritative federal agency in charge of managing and coordinating drug policy, in accordance with a memorandum that was sent out Friday to agency employees by the acting director.
This budget plan draft emerges as the country is battling with an intense and ever escalating opioid epidemic. Putting a stop to opioid addiction was a mainstay of president Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, and he gathered support from a significant number of rural areas and small towns of residents filled with working-class citizens who ever see the biggest blows from the drug crisis. President Trump commissioned a new task force in March, charged with the responsibility of addressing addiction and to assist with the defeat of the opioid crisis, electing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Trump’s formal rival and friend, to lead the charge.
But in an email delivered to full-time employees, the added director of the office, Richard Baum, stated that the administration’s suggested cuts for the fiscal year that starts in October “reflects a nearly 95 percent” reduction in the agency’s budget. The suggested $364 million cut would only result in a remaining balance of only $24 million and effectively eliminate two of its major programs.
Baum wrote the cuts are “at odds with the fact that the President has tasked us with supporting his Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.” He referred to them “drastic” and “frankly heartbreaking.”
The memo specifically said that approximately half of the 33 full-time employees that staff the office will be eliminated.
“That budget wouldn’t pay the heating bill at the Pentagon,” said Barry McCaffrey, a retired U.S. Army general, who lead the office between 1996 and 2001 under President Bill Clinton. “It sends a terrible message. Why send this bizarre political signal in the middle of what is without question a major health-care crisis in America? It’s very strange.”
The establish office has symbolically served as the coordinator of America’s drug war, after being established in the 1980s during the height of the cocaine epidemic. It provided a mutual ground for high-profile directors, informally known as “drug czars,” which have included Robert Martinez, former Florida Gov., Lee Brown, former Houston Mayor, and William Bennett, the former education secretary. The directors of the office had authority over the budget and Oval Office assess.
Hundreds of law enforcement, drug prevention, and health groups have formed a coalition that is planning to deliver a letter of protest to the White House on Monday.
The office “brings essential expertise to the table on complex drug issues, expertise that would otherwise be missing or dispersed across multiple agencies,” stated the letter, a copy of which The Washington Post obtained. “It is more important than ever for ONDCP to remain a strong voice in the White House and a visible presence nationally.”
Included in the coalition is the National District Attorneys Association, the Young People In Recovery Advocacy Group, and Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
The Drug-Free Community Support Program is one of the office’s two signature coordinated efforts, as it was America’s largest drug prevention initiative, which is responsible for funding 5000 local anti-drug coalitions.
The second of the two signature initiatives is the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which is responsible for coordinating anti-drug trafficking efforts initiated by local, state and federal enforcement agencies.
These two programs are very popular, and eliminating them from operation would invigorate congressional opposition. There have been several members of Congress who is already publicized statements that condemn the cuts as proposed as of Friday, or friend to them as shortsighted.
“I’ve known and worked with our drug czars for more than 20 years, and this agency is critical to our efforts to combat drug abuse in general, and this opioid epidemic, in particular,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary for the White House, was asked on Friday about reports that the drug policy office would be eliminated, and in response, she said “When it comes to the opioid epidemic, the president has been extremely clear that this is a top priority for him. I certainly wouldn’t get ahead of conversations about the budget. We haven’t had a final document, and I think it would be ridiculous to comment on a draft version of something at this point.”
The White House has declared that it is working towards the elimination of inefficiency and duplication. Budget officials have already made proposals to eliminate a large number of programs throughout the establishment of the government, including some of those that are supported by congressional Republicans.
The draft proposal outline for the drug czar’s office stated that the 2018 fiscal budget “supports an effort to streamline” the office’s organization and “to shift focus from duplicative and burdensome administrative tasks.” It proclaims that the change permits the office to direct its focused efforts towards a “better address the top drug threats, including the opioid epidemic.”
The office web page, which was found on the White House website, underwent removal on Friday, with these words displaying on the screen “Check back soon for more information.”