HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Former William Bennett Aide Will Be Drug Czar, Sources Say
Pubdate: Tue, 24 Apr 2001
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2001 Houston Chronicle
Contact:  http://www.chron.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/198
Author:  Michael Hedges

FORMER WILLIAM BENNETT AIDE WILL BE DRUG CZAR, SOURCES SAY

WASHINGTON -- President Bush will name from his father's administration an 
anti-drug policy veteran to run the White House office coordinating the 
fight against illegal narcotics, sources said.

John Walters, who was the deputy director of the Office of National Drug 
Control Policy during the administration of former President Bush, is 
expected to be named drug czar, said official sources.

The announcement is expected after background checks and could come by 
week's end.

"I've had discussions about taking a position in the administration," 
Walters said Monday, but he declined to confirm that he'd accepted the drug 
policy job.

The drug czar is a key presidential aide, setting anti-drug policy, taking 
a lead role in lobbying Congress and becoming the chief national spokesman 
in the $19 billion annual federal fight against illegal drugs. Walters is 
president of the Philanthropy Roundtable, a private national donors 
organization.

During the last Republican administration, Walters was the top deputy to 
William Bennett, who took a high profile approach to the job of drug czar, 
using the office as a national pulpit against drugs.

"John is the best person for the job. He is one of the three or four most 
knowledgeable people about the issue and he has a deep passion about the 
job of stopping illegal drugs," Bennett said Monday.

Walters headed the drug control policy office of supply reduction under 
Bennett, and frequently testified before Congress on behalf of increasing 
funding to law enforcement efforts to stop drugs.

He has backed the controversial program of certifying whether nations 
receiving U.S. aid are doing enough to stop drugs from being produced and 
smuggled into the United States. Under that law, a country that is not 
certified can lose American aid.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle earlier this year, Walters said 
whoever was named Bush's drug czar would face a tough challenge.

Walters said there was increasing pressure across the political spectrum to 
call the war on drugs a failure.

"It is difficult to build a consensus, even among Republicans," Walters 
said. "The conservative side is split between the hard core law-and-order 
people and those who are more libertarian, who don't want the federal 
government deeply involved in people's lives."

It was not clear whether Walters will have Cabinet-level status. While the 
job is not Cabinet level by law, presidents can elevate the holder to a 
member of the Cabinet.

Republicans in Congress earlier this year urged Bush to make the drug czar 
a Cabinet appointee.

"We believe that any downgrade of the drug czar position below Cabinet 
status at the outset of your administration would be a political misstep," 
said a letter to Bush signed by key Republican House committee chairmen.

During the Clinton administration, Walters was a frequent critic of what he 
said was a drift away from the emphasis on drug enforcement and attacking 
the supply side of the problem to focus more on treatment and prevention.

In return, Clinton's former drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, questioned whether 
Walters would err on the side of increased enforcement at the expense of 
demand-side programs.

"I think he's focused too much on interdiction. I hope he educates himself 
carefully on prevention and treatment as an essential part of this 
strategy," McCaffrey said of Walters on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday.

McCaffrey also criticized Walters for opposing an expensive series of media 
advertisements paid by the drug control policy office as an anti-drug effort.

Those ads, produced by the Partnership for a Drug Free America under a $185 
million annual contract, have been successful in reducing drug use among 
school-aged children, McCaffrey said.

But Steve Dnistrian, executive vice president of the anti-drug partnership, 
said he was hopeful Walters would continue the ad campaign. "It is 1 
percent of the anti-drug budget, and since it was launched we've seen drug 
use come down among the target audience after going up for the years 
before," Dnistrian said.

Walters would bring experience to the job of drug czar, Dnistrian said. 
"John knows the entire drug policy spectrum," he said. "That is a very 
distinct strength. He knows Capitol Hill and he knows the appropriation 
process, so he can jump right in."

The Bush administration considered a range of people for the drug czar job 
before selecting Walters.

Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating was asked about taking the job, but declined, 
officials said. Others on the short list included Florida state drug czar 
Jim McDonough, former Florida congressman Bill McCollum and Brent Coles, 
mayor of Boise, Idaho.

And last week, former Notre Dame basketball coach Richard "Digger" Phelps 
met with White House officials to talk about the job. The South Bend 
Tribune quoted Phelps, who was a special assistant to the drug control 
policy office in the first Bush administration, saying, "I'm just exploring 
the possibility."
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