Washington's prohibition establishment is beginning to eat its own tail, according to a report this week in the National Journal. According to the high-dollar Washington insider publication, drug czar John Walters is under attack from the very people who should be his allies -- members of Congress, police, even current and former staffers of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Walters was even slagged by arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), chair of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources. Walters "is on the verge of gutting his own office," said Souder. "This is a period of more turmoil than we have had since the Bush administration took over, inside ONDCP."
Walters' reign as drug czar has been marked by personnel problems and the loss of key senior officials at ONDCP. One former senior official, John Gregrich, told the Journal Walters began "harassing" career employees with petty conduct complaints designed to punish them or persuade them to resign. Another problem was former deputy demand director Andrea Barthwell, who was the subject of a hostile workplace complaint filed by Gregrich. An ONDCP investigator in that case found, "The management method currently being employed has created an atmosphere of intimidation."
Barthwell left in July 2004 in a failed bid for a US Senate seat from Illinois, and most of her senior aides left with her. Neither Barthwell nor her aides have been replaced. "There has been a flushing of the demand reduction office," a Democratic congressional staffer told the Journal. "There has been a problematic lack of depth" in ONDCP since then, said a Republican staffer.
Walters and ONDCP are also under attack for isolating themselves from their putative allies. "Under the previous administration, as the president of a national group, we frequently met with the director and other ONDCP executive staff," said Ronald Brooks, president of the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition. "We have only had one meeting like that since Walters took over four years ago, and that meeting happened right after he took over, and we haven't had one since. Without a dialogue, sitting in a policy office inside the Beltway, how do you make great decisions if you don't ask anybody?" Brooks asked.
But it is Walters' support of the 2006 Bush anti-drug budget, which cuts the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, and other demand-reduction programs, that has really angered his erstwhile prohibitionist pals. Under the budget, HIDTA is set to lose more than half its funding and be transferred from ONDCP to the Justice Department. The program was "unable to demonstrate results," Walters said in defending the cuts.
Rep. Souder told the Journal he was upset that Walters and the administration had failed to consult with anyone outside the White House about the cuts, even though they have the potential to significantly impact anti-drug programs nationwide. "It's the arrogance of it which upset me so much," Souder said. "They didn't talk to anybody."
Now you know how we feel, Mr. Souder.