The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Congress Not Seeing Drug War Waste

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was established in 1988 to develop and coordinate policies and objectives to decrease illegal drug use, manufacturing, trafficking, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences in the United States.  In May 2005, CAGW released Up in Smoke:  ONDCP’s Wasted Efforts in the War on Drugs

A core program of the ONDCP is the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign (“Campaign”). which was created to, “educate and enable youth to reject illegal drugs, especially marijuana and inhalants.”  The Campaign has wasted more than $2 billion over five years on unsuccessful propaganda campaigns that have violated federal advertising laws. 

In September 1998, a health survey company, Westat Inc., was competitively awarded a grant by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to conduct a “science-based evaluation” of the Campaign.  Westat concluded that no significant changes in drug use among America’s youth have occurred that can solely be accredited to ONDCP.  Westat reported in December 2003 about the Marijuana Initiative, stating, “[t]here is little evidence of direct favorable Campaign effects on youth, either for the Marijuana Initiative period or for the Campaign as whole.”  Additionally, the report showed that the number of American youths that did not intend on trying marijuana was reduced by only 0.6 percent, going from 87.5 percent in 2000 to 86.9 percent in 2003. 

The Campaign also violated anti-propaganda law.  A January 4, 2005 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that the ONDCP violated the Drug-Free Media Campaign Act of 1998, which would have required ONDCP to disclose in any and all “news media outreach” ONDCP’s role in the production and distribution of its news stories.  However, video news releases were broadcasted to 770 news stations on almost 300 television stations, without identifying the source of the ads, therefore being indistinguishable from real news releases.

Another cornerstone program of the ONDCP is the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Program, which was designed primarily to curb drug trafficking across U.S. borders.  Funding was originally distributed to five “gateway” regions, those that had the highest rates of drug transfers, including Los Angeles, Houston, New York/New Jersey, South Florida and the Southwest border.

But the focus of the program has weakened over time, as members of Congress have lobbied to expand the number of areas that qualify to receive funding.  Places in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain region, are getting money that otherwise would have gone to border states.  Non-border states claim that they need the money to combat local methamphetamine production. 

However, only 20 percent of the methamphetamine in the U.S. is produced domestically, while approximately 80 percent is imported from Mexico.  The dispersion of HIDTA funds leaves California especially hard hit.  The state faces the dual problem of maintaining border control and accounting for 75 to 90 percent of the nation’s domestic meth production.

The wasted money and effort put into these programs have failed to resonate with the nation’s policy makers. The federal budget for fiscal year 2006 appropriated a total of $12.5 billion for ONDCP.  Congress appropriated $99 million for the Campaign in fiscal 2006, which is $21 million less than the President wanted and a $20 million cut from its funding level in fiscal 2005.  Pointing to its failure to demonstrate results, the Bush Administration requested that HIDTA be transferred to the Department of Justice and consolidated with other drug trafficking programs, reducing its overall funding 58 percent from $226.5 million to $100 million.  Congress refused to enact this change and President Bush requested this reasonable reform again in his fiscal 2007 budget.

-- Courtney Mickman

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