Local law enforcement officials are assailing major budget cuts proposed by the Bush administration to a national network of drug-interdiction task forces, says the Baltimore Sun. Yesterday, a bipartisan group in Congress protested White House recommendations to cut funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area programs by more than half, from $227 million to $100 million. Administration officials and some conservative groups complain that the 15-year-old program has become misguided and bloated, expanding sixfold and venturing far afield in 33 areas to tackle local drug problems, such as methamphetamine labs in small Midwestern cities.
Utah Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch blamed the White House’s drug czar, John P. Walters for failing to fully support a joint local-federal initiative that has proved its worth. “I don’t want to see this strategy dumped because we’re so stupid,” he said. The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, known as HIDTA, was introduced in 1990 to target hot spots for large-scale drug trafficking in Los Angeles, Houston, New York and New Jersey, South Florida, and the Mexican border areas of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. A spokeswoman for Walters said, “We believe that the program should return to its original mission, and the budget will be sufficient to accomplish its original goals.” But HIDTA directors from across the country unveiled an internal study showing that for every $1 spent on the program, law enforcement officials have seized $64 worth of illegal drugs and drug-related assets.