ONDCP: Senate Panel Recommends Cutting Salaries at Drug Czar's Office

The Congress is getting increasingly testy with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and in a sharp signal of its unhappiness with the performance of ONDCP head John Walters, the drug czar, a Senate panel is recommending that salaries and expenses at ONDCP be slashed by well over half, from $26.6 million this year to $11.5 million next year.

Although Walters has been able to tout such successes as marginal declines in drug use rates among selected groups -- especially teenagers -- he has come under tough attack from congressional drug warriors, especially over ONDCP's halting response to the spread of methamphetamine. Walters and ONDCP are also taking flak for supporting the Bush administration's calls to slash funding for grants to help local law enforcement form drug task forces and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas.

ONDCP has 111 full-time employees. As its director, Walters earns $183,000 a year.

He isn't worth it, the Senate Appropriations Committee signaled. In its July vote on an appropriations bill, the committee recommended the deep cuts, saying the reductions would "more closely reflect actual performance."

In that legislation, the committee called for independent evaluations of ONDCP and demanded documentation of travel records, salaries, and contracts. The committee also complained that Walters and ONDCP have been unresponsive to congressional requests for information and have prevented program directors from meeting with the committee.

"This kind of unresponsiveness... results in an unnecessary waste of time and energy," the bill states. "Numerous follow-up communications are required in almost every instance."

Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) chairs the subcommittee with oversight over ONDCP. His spokesman, Rob Ostrander, told the Associated Press Walters had a bad habit of not paying attention to committee requests. "Unfortunately, this has been a long-term problem," Ostrander said. "The agency has a record of being unresponsive to committee staff. We hope that changes, because at the end of the day we need to ensure taxpayers' money is being spent wisely."

Sen. Joe Biden took to the Senate floor last week to complain about Walters. "Under him, the office operates like an ivory tower rather than the command center for our national drug control policy," Biden said.

The budgets cuts are likely to end up being restored, but even threatening to cut the once sacrosanct drug czar's budget is an indication that times are changing.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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ONDCP and the Drug Czar

Congress should slash their budget and salaries to zero, then maybe the public would finally get their money's worth.

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