HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Anti-Drug Funds Spread Out In Search of a Problem
Source: Grand Rapids Press (MI) 
Contact:  (616) 222-5212
Pubdate: 20 Dec 1998
Author: Joseph T. Hallinan, Newhouse News Service


Federal Funds, in Search of a Problem, often find a Home in the Back Yards
of Congressmen

In the Nine Years of the HIDTA Program's Existence, Its Budget has Soured
by More Than 600 Percent.

According to the federal government, Cleveland isn't a high-intensity drug
trafficking area/ But Laramie, Wyo., is.

Boston isn't one, either. But Yankton, S.D. is.

Yankton, like Laramie, has been officially declared a High Intensity Drug
Trafficking Area, a federal designation worth a pot of gold.

Since its inception a decade ago, the HIDTA (pronounced Hide-uh) program
has doled out more than $1. billion, yet produced few tangible results.

It was originally tailored to provide small amounts of money to places
where drug trafficking had, in Congress' words, "created emergency

But today, the HIDTA program has fattened into a kind of law-enforcement
grab bag that pays for projects whether or not they are directly related to
drugs. The program has few criteria and no applicant is ever really refused.

In the process, it has become a favorite in Congress. Members who control
the program's budged often end up with HIDTAs in their districts.

"There's been a tremendous proliferation of these HIDTAs over the last
several years," said Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., who heads one of the
committees that oversees the program's money. "I worry about that. I think
the concept is good, but it seems to me that they're just running into more
law-enforcement projects for members."

There are now 20 High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas in the United
States. Many of them adjoin others and many include several counties. In
all, 258 counties are included in HIDTAs nationwide. They encompass
metropolitan areas often associated with drugs, like Miami, Houston, New York.

But they also include scores of other places, among them the most remote
and sparsely populated regions in the country: places like Mingo County,
W.Va., and Owsley County, Ky., in the heart of Appalachia; Pennington
County, S.D., home of Mount Rushmore; and Kenedy County, Texas, population

More than a third of the population of the United States - 96 million
people - live in a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

West Michigan is not one of those areas. In fact, Grand Rapids police
officials say they were unaware of the federal program.

But elsewhere, the list keeps growing.

Among the newest proposed high-intensity drug areas is North Dakota, one of
the least-inhabited states in America. Next year it is expected to get
$1.97 million.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said his state needs the money because it is
being "inundated" by a "rising tide" of the drug methamphetamine or speed.

If that is so, then the tide must be shallow.

Last year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission listed the number of people
sentenced in federal court in North Dakota for trafficking in any type of
drug - including methamphetamine. The total was just 27.

The HIDTA program is administered through the Office of National Drug
Control Policy, headed by drug czar Barry McCaffrey.

It functions, in essence, as a dispenser of money.

Areas that want the HIDTA money must form a committee. Typically a
committee consists of a dozen or so people and includes representatives
from local police departments and federal agencies like the FBI.

The money they get can be used to pay for nearly anything from salaries to
computers. But in general, it is supposed to enhance cooperation between
federal and local law enforcement agencies in the fight against drugs.

Among the most useful enhancements funded by HIDTA has been the creation of
"deconfliction systems." These are computer programs that keep track of
undercover operations so that plainclothes officers don't shoot each other.

But the computers are also used for other purposes. The HIDTA for the
Washington/Baltimore area, for instance, maintains a Web site for the
public. Click on the section marked "Gang Overview" and you get a picture
of a man in a tank top and a woman in a miniskirt. They are locked in an
embrace. The "Overview of Gangs" that follows is taken from the Broadway
musical "West Side Story."

Thomas Carr, who heads the Washington/Baltimore HIDTA, said he was unaware
of what was on the web site. When asked to explain the purpose of the Gang
Overview, Carr said, "I just canceled it." And he did.

Drug czar McCaffery declined to be interviewed for this story and instead
referred questions to a subordinate, Richard Y. Yamamoto, director of the
HIDTA program. Yamamoto said no applicant for HIDTA funding is ever really

"We really don't reject areas from a formal standpoint," he said. Instead,
unsuccessful applicants are placed on hold until more money becomes
available. And more money has always become available.

In the nine years of the HIDTA program's existence, its budged has soared
by more than 600 percent, from $25 million in 1990 to $184 million in
fiscal year 1999.

The program, according to congressional records, was initially intended "to
help those areas of the country in which drug trafficking and abuse have
created emergency situations."

But the primary author of the HIDTA law, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said
the program has strayed from this purpose.

Biden said he specifically crafted the program so that it was "based
totally on -- completely on -- need." HIDTA money, he said, was supposed to
go to those areas "that clearly needed help."

And during the first few years of the program, he said, that's exactly
where the HIDTAs went -- to drug capitals like Miami, New York and Los

But that, he said, is no longer true.

"If you look at the last several years," said Biden, "they seem to go where
the appropriators are." By "appropriators," he means the members of
Congress who appropriate money.

The budget for the HIDTA program is controlled primarily by two
subcommittees of Congress -- one in the House and one in the Senate. The
Senate subcommittee has five members. Four of those members have HIDTAs in
their states. The only one who doesn't -- Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C. --
just lost his bid for reelection.

The House subcommittee has nine members and its chairman is Kolbe, the
Republican from southeastern Arizona. Kolbe's district is in the middle of
the largest -- and richest -- HIDTA in the country, the Southwest Border
HIDTA.  It sits along the Mexican border, a prime place to intercept drug

Last year the southwest Border areas received $38.7 million, or nearly one
out of four dollars the federal government spent on HIDTAs. That is more
money than any other high-intensity area received.

The highest ranking Democrat on Kolbe's subcommittee is Rep. Steny Hoyer
from Maryland. His district, too, includes a high-intensity area -- the
Washington/Baltimore HIDTA. Last year this area received $11.9 million,
making it the third richest of the 20 HIDTAs then in existence.

There are few criteria for selecting HIDTAs. The decision belong solely to
the drug czar, who may consider whatever factors he likes. By law, his
consideration must include the extent to which: - the proposed area is a
center of illegal drugs, - local police are determined to "respond
aggressively" to the problem, - drug dealing harms other areas of the
country, - the area needs federal money.

But these guidelines are so broad as to admit virtually any applicant.
Under them, parts of Wyoming, where only 53 drug traffickers were sentenced
in federal court last year, are considered High Intensity Drug Trafficking
Areas. But North Carolina, which sentenced 617 drug traffickers, is not. An
application from North Carolina is now pending.

The expansion of the HIDTA program is not entirely the doing of the drug
czar's office. Members of Congress have repeatedly urged that certain areas
in their districts be included as HIDTAs, or that areas in their districts
receive stipulated amounts of money.

Often these dictates are buried in large spending bills passed by Congress.
Such was the case this year. Tucked into the 40 pound, 4,000 page
appropriations bill passed in October were 12 golden words -- each of them
worth $125,000.

The words were the work of Sen Herb Kohl, D-Wis. He is also a member of the
Senate subcommittee that sets the drug czar's budget. They set aside $1.5
million for the exclusive use of his home state's HIDTA in Milwaukee.

Pet projects like this infuriate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. In October, he
took to the Senate floor with a list of all sorts of projects that
involved, in his words, "low priority, unnecessary or wasteful spending."
Among the items was Kohl's gift to Milwaukee.

Despite appearances to the contrary, said Kolbe, lawmakers do want to make
the selection of HIDTAs more objective.

For nine years Congress has tried to get the drug czar to set performance
standards for the HIDTA program, and for nine years it has failed. The
first attempt, in 1989, required the drug czar's office to produce
"cost-benefit and cot-effectiveness data." It never did. 
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Checked-by: Richard Lake