The House of Representatives this week passed, by a voice vote, a bill which would reauthorize funding for, and significantly strengthen the powers of, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and its director, currently retired Army General Barry McCaffrey. In return, however, the bill requires that the office report its progress to Congress bi-annually, and sets demanding goals to be met in order to assure continued funding of the office.
The new powers invested in the office would include the ability to transfer funds and responsibilities between and among the numerous agencies who are involved in the Drug War. The requirements, however, are the real story, with the bill requiring the Drug Czar to demonstrate reductions in the availability of heroin and cocaine of 80% by 2001, and a reduction in "drug related" crime of 50% by that time. In addition, the bill would require ONDCP to submit a four- year plan to congress outlining a strategy to reduce the number of U.S. citizens using drugs by half, from 6% down to 3% of the total population. The bill now goes to the Senate.
The White House was not pleased with the new requirements, calling them "unreasonable and unattainable." In a letter to House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich, McCaffrey said that such "unrealistic targets" could "hurt our efforts against drug use when the public, seeing the inevitable failure to meet these goals, becomes convinced the effort is lost." McCaffrey indicated that his office's target is to reduce the number of Americans who use an illegal drugs to 3% of the population by the year 2007.
Gingrich, for his part, seemed unimpressed with the current goals of the administration. In a letter to McCaffrey dated October 7, Gingrich wrote, "The document I received is more like a plan for surrender than a plan for victory. Winning the War on Drugs does not mean that 10 years from now we should have more than 5% of our children as young as 12 on drugs."
Despite 1996 FBI statistics showing the largest number of drug arrests in the nation's history, proponents of this bill are not satisfied that U.S. policy is anywhere near "tough" enough. "We're not only not winning the war on drugs, we don't even have a war on drugs," said Rep. Bill McCollum, R-FL, chairman of the Judiciary Committee crime panel.
For a reaction, The Week Online spoke with Eric Sterling, President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington, D.C. According to Sterling, "The performance conditions in this bill are wholly unrealistic, and, in any event, subject to political manipulation of the data. But one shudders to think about the tactics which may be justified by such a mandate."
"As to Representative McCollum's statement, whether or not we are actually fighting a 'War on Drugs' depends entirely on how that is defined. It's true that we are not yet strafing our own cities, or planting land mines in front of inner-city junior high schools, and we haven't officially declared marshal law, but we have just about suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus. We are also taking prisoners of war in the hundreds of thousands per year, and they are overwhelmingly young African Americans and Latinos. We may not have a war on drugs in Orlando where Rep. McCollum's constituents live, but in most of America's inner cities, the absence of fathers bears mute testimony to a generation behind bars."