Pubdate: Wed, 12 Mar 2008
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: A17
Copyright: 2008 The Washington Post Company
Author: Christopher Lee, Washington Post Staff Writer


Experts Note Difficulty in Tracking and Evaluating Priorities

Despite congressional demands for transparency, the Office of 
National Drug Control Policy has a murky budget that understates its 
emphasis on popular law enforcement efforts over treatment and 
prevention programs, budget and drug policy experts say.

In February, the White House requested $14.1 billion for drug control 
efforts in fiscal 2009, a 3.4 percent increase. Nearly two-thirds 
would go to law enforcement, interdiction efforts and programs to 
destroy drug crops abroad. Just over a third, or $4.9 billion, would 
fund treatment and prevention efforts.

"The federal government will continue to do its part to keep our 
young people safe, and I urge all Americans to do the same," 
President Bush said in a March 1 radio address.

But the White House has made the job harder, experts say. In 2002, 
the administration narrowed the way it counts federal anti-drug 
spending, which is scattered across programs in about two dozen 
agencies. As a result, billions of dollars spent by several agencies 
moved off of the drug control office's books.

The White House argued that the new budget method merely stripped out 
spending over which the drug control office had no influence, such as 
law enforcement grants that only minimally involved anti-drug efforts.

"The way the budget had been compiled for years was designed to make 
the drug control budget look as big as it possibly could," said Tom 
Riley, a drug office spokesman. "This was to really say, 'Let's make 
the budget more about the things we actually manage and the things 
that we actually do focus on.' "

But some lawmakers have complained that the new method does not 
provide the full picture, and in 2006 Congress directed the 
administration to return to the old one.

That has not happened. The latest budget request contains an appendix 
summarizing nearly $4.8 billion in spending of the sort lawmakers 
want in the more detailed main budget, including more than $4 billion 
at the Justice Department.

The drug office's failure to comply "is part of a pattern of 
practices that frustrates Congress's and the public's ability to 
measure the effectiveness of our nation's drug control policies," 
said Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), chairman of a House oversight 
subcommittee that will hold a hearing on the office's budget today.

Experts say lawmakers and the public need a more complete accounting 
to properly assess federal anti-drug efforts. In an analysis of past 
budgets, John Carnevale, a former Clinton administration drug control 
office budget director, found that since fiscal 2002 federal spending 
on "supply side" efforts -- interdiction, law enforcement and 
overseas activities -- has grown 57 percent. Spending on treatment 
and prevention grew 2.7 percent.

Yet research has found that prevention and treatment do more to 
reduce drug consumption and drug-related crime, said economist 
Rosalie Pacula, co-director of Rand Corp.'s Drug Policy Research 
Center. "That doesn't mean you destroy the enforcement budget," said 
Pacula, who is set to testify today. "It's just saying that for 
increases in the budget, you'll get your biggest bang for the buck by 
putting it into treatment resources."

Riley defended the administration's approach. He said some of the 
biggest opponents of changes to supply-side efforts, such as local 
law enforcement grants, have been members of Congress protecting their turf.

"There was no choice to sit at the dial of drug policy and say, hmm, 
let's move from demand to supply," Riley said. "That's not what's 
happened at all. In fact, I would say there has been a very powerful 
appreciation and understanding of the power of prevention, treatment 
and recovery in this administration." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake