12/13/15 Doug McVay

This week: We hear ONDCP Director Michael Botticelli and the GAO's David Maurer testify before a House subcommittee on ONDCP reauthorization and about recent reports from both agencies that show that current US drug control policies are a failure.

Century of Lies
Sunday, December 13, 2015
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts
Download: Audio icon COL121115.mp3



DECEMBER 13, 2015


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization. Legalization. The end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello! And welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Well folks, this week I was planning on continuing our coverage of the Drug Policy Alliance's international reform conference, which was held in mid-November in Crystal City, Virginia, right outside of Washington, DC. And we will hear more from that. But first: last month, the Office of National Drug Control Policy finally released its annual drug control strategy report. ONDCP is supposed to release that report by February of each year. They've blown that deadline every year for quite a long time. The federal fiscal year ends on September 30th, so even though there's still a little time left on the 2015 calendar, they missed the deadline badly for this report.

They released their strategy report during the DPA conference, interestingly enough. Everyone who should have been watching for it, everyone who should have been reporting on it and commenting on it, was preoccupied. Nobody noticed, certainly not the folks at DPA. I learned about it by reading an article on politico.com, which I tweeted and posted on facebook. Pete Guither, the blogger behind DrugWarRant.com, posted a commentary about the report around the same time. And that as far as I can tell was about it.

I intended to give you a report on the report in an upcoming show, and I may still do that, but then at the beginning of December, the Government Accountability Office released a progress report on ONDCP and its efforts to meet the goals that it set out back in 2010 – goals that were supposed to be met this year.

The Subcommittee on Government Operations of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the reauthorization of ONDCP on December 2nd. They heard testimony from drug czar Michael Botticelli, from New England High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Deputy Director David W. Kelley, and also from David Maurer, the Director of Justice and Law Enforcement Issues for the GAO.

So first, let's hear the testimony of David Maurer regarding the ONDCP's failure to meet its goals:

DAVID MAURER: I'm pleased to be here today to discuss GAO's findings on federal efforts to curtail illicit drug use, and enhance coordination among federal, state, and local agencies.

Combating drug use and dealing with its effects is an expensive proposition. The administration requested more than $27 billion to undertake these activities in 2016. Ensuring this money is well spent, that we're making progress, and that the various agencies are well coordinated, is vitally important.

Over the years, GAO has helped Congress and the American public assess how well federal programs are working. In many instances, it's frankly hard to tell, because agencies often don't have good enough performance measures. ONDCP, to its credit, has focused a great deal of time, attention, and resources on developing and using performance measures.

Five years ago, the National Drug Control Strategy established a series of goals, with specific outcomes ONDCP hoped to achieve by 2015. In 2013, we reported that a related set of measures were generally consistent with effective performance management and useful for decision making. That's important to remember, especially when the conversation turns to what those measures tell us.

Overall, there's been a lack of progress. According to a report ONDCP issued two weeks ago, none of the seven goals have been achieved, and in some key areas, the trend lines are moving in the opposite direction. For example, the percentage of 8th graders who have ever used illicit drugs has increased rather than decreased. The number of drug related deaths and emergency room visits has increased 19 percent, rather than decreasing 15 percent a planned. Substantially more Americans now die every year of drug overdoses than in traffic crashes.

Now it's also important to recognize progress in some key areas. For example, there have been substantial reductions in the use of alcohol and tobacco by 8th graders, and the 30-day prevalence of drug use by teenagers has also dropped.

There's also been recent progress in federal drug prevention and treatment programs. Two years ago, we found that coordination across 76 federal programs and 15 federal agencies was all too often lacking. For example, 40 percent of the programs reported no coordination with other federal agencies. We recommended that ONDCP take action to reduce the risk of duplication and improve coordination. Since that report, ONDCP has done just that. It has conducted an inventory of the various programs, and updated its budget process and monitoring efforts to enhance coordination.

Another GAO report highlighted the risks of duplication and overlap among various field-based, multi-agency entities. To enhance coordination, ONDCP funds and supports Multi-Agency Investigative Support Centers in HIDTAs. These centers were one of five information sharing entities we reviewed, including Joint Terrorism Task Forces, and Urban Area Fusion Centers. We found that while these entities have distinct missions, roles, and responsibilities, their activities can overlap. For example, 34 of the 37 field based entities we reviewed conducted overlapping analytical or investigative support activities. We also found that ONDCP and other agencies did not hold field based entities accountable for coordination, or assess opportunities to improve coordination.

Since our report, ONDCP and the Department of Homeland Security have taken actions to address our recommendations. However they have not yet sufficiently enhanced coordination mechanisms or assessed where practices that enhance coordination, such as serving on one another's governance boards, or co-locating with other entities, can be applied to reduce overlap.

In conclusion, as Congress considers options for reauthorizing ONDCP, it's worth reflecting on the deeply ingrained nature of illicit drug use in this country. It's an extremely complex problem that involves millions of people, billions of dollars, and thousands of communities. There are very real costs in lives and livelihoods across the US.

DOUG MCVAY: That was David Maurer, Director of Justice and Law Enforcement Issues with the Government Accountability Office, testifying before the Government Operations Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee regarding ONDCP's drug control policy performance measures, and their failure to meet them.

In a sense, it's not that ONDCP has failed to meet its goals, because it's not their performance that's really being measured. What's being measuring is drug use in the US, and some of the consequences of drug use. The entire drug control apparatus, federal, state, and local, has failed to meet those performance targets that ONDCP set back in 2010. In other words, the drug war is a failure.

Of course, loyal listeners already knew that the drug war was a failure. Actually, everyone says that the war on drugs is a failure, even law enforcement, the Justice Department, heck, even ONDCP has said that "the drug war" was a failure. Maybe it's time for us to flip the script. I mean, yes, the drug war is a failure, and prohibitionists have even embraced that idea. Sure, there are still a few who use the phrase “war on drugs,” but most of them have dropped that rhetoric already. They're trying to co-opt our rhetoric. So let's be more clear in what we're saying: Current drug policy is a failure.

I mean, we pay lip service to the idea of the need for effective prevention programs, and for access to effective treatment, yet we still rely on law enforcement and the threat of the criminal justice system. I mean, historically, the Vietnam War wasn't a quote “war”. It was a police action. Okeh, fine. So we don't have a drug war. Instead, we have a police action. We have drug control policy that's based in the criminal justice system, and that's why it inevitably fails.

Shakespeare wrote, “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Well, whether we call it a drug war or any other name, contemporary US drug policy still stinks. And it fails.

You're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

We're going to continue now with more audio from that hearing on ONDCP reauthorization that was held before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Government Operations on December 2nd. The next voice you hear will be that of Mick Mulvaney, the Republican from South Carolina:

MICK MULVANEY: Thank you very much. Gentlemen, thank you very much for being here today. Just want to go over a couple of things that Mr. Botticelli said in his opening testimony, Mr. Maurer touched on briefly and it's in the reports that we have in front of us. I heard Mr. Botticelli said that, that made substantial or significant progress in the areas since 2010, but I hear Mr. Maurer say something a little bit different. So let's drill down into, uh, these seven goals. Mr. Maurer, I couldn't find the seven goals. Could you briefly tell us what they were, that the GAO took a look at. You mentioned one of them, which was 8th grade marijuana use, I think, or something like that. But tell us what the 7 goals were.

DAVID MAURER: Sure. There's 7 national goals that were set out in the 2010 strategy, were to look at 30-day use by teenagers, 8th grade lifetime drug use, and that was broken down by illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Thirty day use by young adults. The amount of chronic users of different illicit drugs. Drug related deaths, drug related morbidity, and then rates of drugged driving.

MICK MULVANEY: All right. And, if I read the GAO summary correctly, here's what I see, Mr. Botticelli, stop me if I'm wrong when I come back and ask you to answer some questions on this. That in March of 2013, the GAO said that on those 7 goals, that had been laid out in 2010, that you folks, Mr. Botticelli, had made progress on one, no progress on four, and there appeared to be a lack of data on the other two. Fast forward to a couple weeks ago, when your own analysis came out, and you folks said that you had made progress on one, no progress on three, and what some would describe as quote "mixed," end quote, progress on three others. So I guess, here's my question, guys. It's now five years, none of them have been achieved. You've made progress on one, Mr. Botticelli. Tell me, why are we still spending money on this, why are you all still, why are we still doing this, if you've had five years and we're, according to Mr. Maurer, we're actually getting worse, not better? So, tell me how substantial progress has been made.

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: Let me go over in detail in terms of where our progress has -- and we'll be happy to have subsequent conversation with you. When we look at, one of the main measures we look at, particularly as it relates to youth, because we know that youth are particularly vulnerable. When we look at the decrease in prevalence, thirty day prevalence rates of drug use among 12 to 17 year olds, that we have made considerable progress towards those goals, that are --

MICK MULVANEY: 12 to 17 is the young adult group that he mentioned?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: Correct. Correct. And clearly, we know that substance use by young adults really can set a lifelong trajectory of pattern. When we look at 8th graders, because again we know that early use predicts lifetime -- often predicts lifetime use. When we look at illicit drug use, that's where we have not made progress, and again, if you take marijuana out from other illicit drugs, that we have made progress. Not on marijuana, but on other illicit drug use. But we have met the goals as it's related to alcohol and tobacco use.

MICK MULVANEY: Let me stop you there, and go to Mister Maurer on this. Is that, do you agree with that, by the way? If we take marijuana out, have they made substantial progress on the other?

DAVID MAURER: We didn't have access to the root data to allow us to form that kind of analysis, but it seems to fit with some of the broader trends we've seen in other sources.

MICK MULVANEY: Okeh. Thanks. Go ahead, Mister Botticelli.

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: So, the -- one of the other issues that we look at is chronic users, because we know that these are folks who often have addictive issues. They often are involved in criminal behavior, and when you look at a number of those markers, in terms of cocaine use, and in terms of methamphetamine use, we've seen reduc -- significant reductions, and we are moving toward our goal. Marijuana use, we're not, we're moving away from that goal, and we see a dramatic increase in the chronic use of marijuana, particularly among young adults in this country. If you look at our marker that looks at reducing drug use among young adults in the country, we've seen no change. But again, if you take marijuana out of the young adult use, we've seen significant -- and actually would have met our target for reducing drug use, if it were not for marijuana, increases in marijuana use.

MICK MULVANEY: Mr. Maurer, if you had the access to that root data, and had the ability to separate out marijuana use, and maybe, marijuana use is different now than it was in 2010, we've got states legalizing it, decriminalizing it. Would it give Congress better data, a better look into what Mr. Botticelli's organization is accomplishing, if we could separate out that particular illicit drug?

DAVID MAURER: Yeah, absolutely, access to better data would give better information to inform Congressional decisionmaking. We'd be happy to do that.

MICK MULVANEY: Mr. Botticelli, are you able to do that?


MICK MULVANEY: Okeh. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

DOUG MCVAY: That was an exchange between Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican from South Carolina, and the drug czar, Michael Botticelli. You also heard David Maurer, from the Government Accountability Office.

Now, the next segment, the first voice you hear will be that of Subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina.

MARK MEADOWS: Let me be real brief in terms of the introduction. I think we have a bipartisan agreement that this is something that we need to address. The question for me becomes is, is with the reauthorization and some of the suggestions that have been made in that, is that the appropriate place and money funding, I can tell you that I started a nonprofit with a very good friend of mine who lost his grandson, and there is a cycle within that family of drug abuse, and so we went in and developed a nonprofit to work on the prevention side of things. And so this is something that's near and dear to my heart. But I want to go a little closer because I think this is all about coordination.

Mr. Maurer talked about it early on, that there's virtually little if no coordination among some of the agencies, and yet we spend billions of dollars. Mr. Kelley, you were talking about increasing the authorization amount. I'm willing to really look at that, to make sure that you have the resources necessary, but as we look at these caps, I want to make sure that we're not taking away from HIDTA, which I consider more of a law enforcement component, and spending the money on prevention and treatment when it would be better allocated in a different agency that already does prevention and treatment. Okeh? And I think you're following where I'm going with this, because it gets back to the mission creep. So, let me ask my tougher question to you, first, Director, and that is, is in the reauthorization language, there's talk about getting rid of the new performance reporting system. Why?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: So, one of the things that we've looked at as we've undertaken our reorganization is how do we achieve greater efficiency within our organization, to really focus on our main goals and our main mission here. And one of the things that we've looked at, and we are fully cognizant of our role, both to ourselves as an agency, to Congress, and to the American people, that we monitor performance. That we are --

MARK MEADOWS: But you came out with this new development performance system. Why get rid of it? Just cut to the chase, how do we -- why are you getting rid of it?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: So, part of what we're trying to do is achieve greater efficiency within our organization.

MARK MEADOWS: So, how do you do that by getting rid of an evaluation program?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: Because what we looked at is, through the existing, we do have existing mechanisms within our current administration that monitors performance.

MARK MEADOWS: So, who made the mistake of doing the new performance measures? I think there was -- you created a new one, and then you're doing away with it, and I don't understand why we would do that.

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: So, so, I want to be clear and up front, that there were elements of the performance review summary that helped in our ability to continue to monitor performance.

MARK MEADOWS: All right, let me be clear and up front. I want you to work with GAO to keep the system of performance review in place, make it meaningful, make it measured, because the appearance, and I just got finished saying that I'm willing to look at increasing the authorization and renewing it, but the appearance is, is that you didn't meet your performance standards, and you got rid of the program, and that's not satisfactory, and so, do I have your commitment today to work with Mr. Maurer and the folks at GAO to make that meaningful and put that back in?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: So, I, I would be happy to work with you, because I do want to assure you --




MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: That we satisfy your request to make sure that we are monitoring, and that we --

MARK MEADOWS: Performance is all about it, and if we're spending billions of dollars and we're not getting what we need, then we need to reallocate those funds. Okeh? So, if you could put up the chart, and this gets back to how I opened up a little bit. This actually, I believe this chart is one that comes from the performance FY 2014, er, '16, excuse me, Budget and Performance Summary that was produced by your, your group, ONDCP.

So we can see there that prevention and treatment across agencies is substantially higher already, is, you know, I guess that's 11 billion, is where that would be. And so, some of the wonderful programs that have been talked about today, that I actually, I've taken advantage of, and used, with grants and some of those are actually working in treatment and prevention.

Then you drop down to the next group, that's domestic law enforcement. So let me be specific, knowing that you have a willing participant here to help you with the reauthorization. I am very concerned that we're taking HIDTA, and we're making them a treatment and prevention group, when we're already spending 11 billion in other agencies to do that, when just better coordination, as Mr. Maurer with GAO has already mentioned, would actually address that.

So, what I'd like us to do is re-look at that, if we can, and look at, and if we're not meeting the five percent cap, you know, and the gentlewoman from the District of Columbia and the gentleman from Maryland have both talked about how, that treatment component with HIDTA is effective, but yet we're still not meeting the five percent cap that's in pro -- what I want to do is make sure that we're allocating the money in, with the proper agency to perform those functions and not making a law enforcement officer do treatment and prevention, because, I want to give them the tools to refer, but they're not in the treatment and prevention business, they're in the law enforcement business, and when you do that, it is very concern -- would you agree with that?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: I would agree. You know, one of the things that I do want to point to is that despite the fact that we have significant funding and increased funding for prevention and treatment, we know we have gaps in many parts of the country.

MARK MEADOWS: I will agree with that. But, is HIDTA the best place to do that, because, I can tell you, my bias is that it's not. But, but you can sell me, I'm waiting to hear.

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: No, so, one of the things that we do work with the HIDTA program on, is making sure that if they are investing dollars in prevention and treatment, that they go toward evidence based programs. Right?

MARK MEADOWS: I understand that, but, let me tell you, I've got a HIDTA program in three counties, and that is McDowell, Bunkum, and Henderson county in my district. And the only common thread there is transportation. We're looking at main corridors coming from the south, I mean, and, and to do away with money from the HIDTA program there, is not addressing the treatment or prevention aspect because it is all about transportation and that goes from a, both a Democrat and a Republican sheriff that are working in those counties. They work better together, and to reduce their funds concerns me, so, you follow my logic?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: So, I appreciate your comments on this, and let me just reiterate, that, you know, our purpose here with the language was in no way, shape, or form to dilute the main mission of our HIDTA program.

MARK MEADOWS: I believe that. But, what I'm saying is, is it could do that if we go that way, so will you readdress the reauthorizing language with that in mind, and my bias? And I'll give you, after this time because I need to go on to my other colleagues. You can try to sell me.

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: I think we can, and I think one of the things that we can work on is maybe establishing better criteria for, as we look at the justice --

MARK MEADOWS: All right. So let me put it bluntly. Will my sheriffs agree that we need to increase the amount of money going to treatment and prevention in HIDTA, and go away from them, would they agree with that?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: I, I honestly don't know what the local circumstances -- as long -- but I will say that they probably would object and we would object if that dilutes from their main mission.

MARK MEADOWS: If they object, we are going to have an issue, and I'll go to the --

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: They're probably on the HIDTA board.


DOUG MCVAY: You've just heard Representative Mark Meadows questioning ONDCP Director Michael Botticelli at an oversight hearing on the reauthorization of ONDCP, which was held on December 2nd.

So now, let's hear one more segment from that hearing. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democratic delegate from Washington, DC, asked about marijuana enforcement and racial disparities:

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: I really felt I had to ask you a question on synthetic drugs, and I want to say, the chairman mentioned that his sheriffs wouldn't want you to take away from law enforcement function, I would agree with you. My police chief wouldn't want it, either, especially in light of the fact that I think you took down 19,000-plus packets of synthetic drugs only recently here in the District of Columbia, and I think it was your very HIDTA, HIDTA law enforcement that did it, it made big news here. These synthetic drugs present a new challenge, I want to know how you're handling it.

We've had, in October alone, emergency services were called 580 times, more than 18 times a day, to respond to synthetic drug emergencies. Here we have bipartisan legislation that has been introduced, I'm not sure any of it can be found to be constitutional because, unlike heroin, which is what it is, for example, they change the composition -- the composition, sorry. Are you pursuing synthetic drugs? In light of the fact that a criminal statute cannot be overly broad or it violates due process, do you have the tools to do your law enforcement work with what is now a growing menace across the United States? My Republican members who have this problem for example on the bills, come from Texas and and Pennsylvania. Mr. Botticelli?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: Thank you, Congresswoman, I'm glad I had the opportunity to talk about synthetics, and while we've been talking about the opiate addiction, you know, one of our prime concerns has been the dramatic increase in these new psychoactive substances, both in terms of my job and as a resident of the District, I've seen the incredible impact that it's had. You know, we've been working with our counterparts in China, because we know that the vast majority of these precursor chemicals are coming in from China. We're happy to say that China just moved to schedule over a hundred of these substances.

One of the areas that we -- to your point, about how do we stay ahead of these new chemical compositions, has been a challenge for us at both the federal and state level. We're happy to work with Congress in terms of the legislation that's been introduced, that would give federal government additional and quicker scheduling authority.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: So, you do need, you do need, as China is doing new legislation, you do need new legislation to be able to do effective law enforcement?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: I believe that we have not been able to stay ahead of these new chemical compositions, and we need to look --

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: I have one more question before my time is up. I know that four states and the District of Columbia have legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, the other four of course have legalized possession -- excuse me, sale as well. In DC, they're sending our people to the, to the illegal market because we can't yet do the sale. How much of your work goes for marijuana? In light of the fact that this is drug -- this drug is increasingly, you have 20 states that have decriminalized it. Are you really spending resources on marijuana? Particularly in light of the fact that, in terms of the white/black and getting into what happened with mandatory minimums, the arrest records are almost entirely black or Latino, because the white kids are not in, not exposed to law enforcement areas and don't get picked up. In light of that racial disparity, how much of our, of your funds for law enforcement goes for marijuana? Which is being legalized before your very eyes.

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: So, I can get you an exact breakdown in terms of where our law enforcement efforts, but I

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: Can you send the chairman of this committee a breakdown in terms of -- Mr. Kelley has a breakdown.

DAVID KELLEY: No, I was going to address one other issue that you raised, if I may. If the chairman allows.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: Well, excuse me, could this question be answered, Mr. Botticelli?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: I'd be happy to do that, but I think to your point, you know, the vast majority of the resources that ONDCP and the federal government looks at are really for enhanced prevention and treatment programs. You know, we don't and I think the federal government and the Department of Justice has issued guidance saying that we are not going to be using our limited federal resources to focus on, uh, on low-level folks who are using this for largely personal use. I think you've heard today that folks want to use every opportunity to divert people away from the criminal justice system. But I do have concerns, based on the data that we shared here in terms of marijuana use, what the implications of both decriminalization and legalization mean for the people of the United States. I've been doing public health work for a long time. We know there's disproportionate health impacts, particularly with poor folks --

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: Well, I support those studies, especially when it comes to children. Of course, we know that most people don't smoke marijuana once they leave college.

DOUG MCVAY: Well for now, that's all the time we have. Thank you for listening. This is Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.