Buried in the gargantuan overall budget proposal President Bush delivered to Congress last week was the first Bush-era federal drug control budget. Those looking for signs of change from the Clinton administration -- for better or for worse -- will find little on which to base their predictions, DRCNet's preliminary analysis shows.
The lack of dramatic change in the drug control budget reflects a Bush administration as yet unwilling or unable to make drug policy a high-profile issue. That discomfort with drug policy is also evident in Bush's failure to yet name a drug czar and with the lack of fiery drug war rhetoric that characterized his father's administration. Only Attorney General John Ashcroft has publicly taken a hard line on drugs, and even then, only when provoked by questioners.
Speculation abounds as to what is going on with drug policy in the White House. Bush feels weakened on the issue by his personal history, some suggest. Others posit internal power-struggles between administration law and order conservatives and libertarians. But speculation is just so much hot air -- the budget is where real priorities are laid out, and this budget shows Bush going down the same merry path as his as prison-happy predecessor.
The proposed Bush drug budget continues both the trend toward incremental increases in the overall drug budget and the rough 2-to-1 ratio of law enforcement to treatment and prevention spending. Total federal drug control spending will climb next year to nearly $19.2 billion, a 6% increase over the current fiscal year, with most agencies and programs getting commensurate increases.
Paying the price for the Clinton-era prison spree, the first Bush drug budget calls for an 8% increase for the Bureau of Prisons and a 21% increase for the federal prisoner detention line item, which disburses tax dollars to private companies contracted to guard prisoners. US taxpayers will shell out more than $3 billion next year for drug war prison costs.
They will also pay $731 million for Bush's new, improved Plan Colombia, now going under the regional moniker of the Andean Initiative.
Other winners in the drug budget sweepstakes were DEA (up 9% to more than $1.5 billion), and such squeaky wheels as the Coast Guard and southwest border prosecutors and politicians. The Coast Guard, which has recently complained loudly of its inability to halt seaborne smugglers, was rewarded with a 19% budget increase. And Bush must have listened to the howls coming from border counties in Texas, where prosecutors have refused to try federally-generated drug cases because of the costs to local jurisdictions. $50 million is allocated for border prosecutors.
Where there are winners, there are losers. In the Bush drug budget, one of the biggest hits is to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Public Housing Drug Elimination grant program. The program that spent $300 million last year to improve the quality of life for public housing residents has been zeroed out in the 2002 budget. The administration explains that the program duplicates other efforts, and that existing programs, such as evicting drug offenders, will do the job.
Another loser is the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics Affairs and Law Enforcement, which will see its funding slashed by 42%, from $279 million this year to $162 million next year. On its face, the huge reduction for the office that provides alternative development assistance to coca-farmers and helps countries strengthen law enforcement and judicial institutions would appear to undercut the administration's Andean Initiative. But the initiative's $731 million appropriation will fold-in some development funds, although the exact numbers are not known.
For Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy (http://www.csdp.org), the Bush budget is "a drug budget on automatic pilot. This is a budget that guarantees long-term failure and more of the same," Zeese told DRCNet.
As important, Zeese added, is to put the drug budget in the larger economic context. "Bush has projected a 10-year flat-line federal budget," he said, "and as a result we won't see health care funding, we won't see new money for treatment, kids won't see their problems addressed."
The budget process is barely underway, and the figures cited above do not represent all spending related to drug control in the federal budget, such as programs in the Departments of Education and Labor that have some drug-control content. Doug McVay of CSDP is preparing a comprehensive analysis of the drug budget, which will appear on the group's web site soon. In the meantime, McVay has posted a copy of the drug budget, at http://www.csdp.org/research/funding2002.pdf online.
In the meantime, cost-benefit analysts trying to determine what we get for our drug budget can chew on these words from the government's greatest beneficiary of drug war budget largesse:
"Measures reported in past years, such as arrests, indictments, and convictions, are not considered useful indicators of the outcome of impact of law enforcement activities by the Department of Justice. The Department will continue to develop new and more meaningful performance measures as part of the implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act."