President Donald Trump’s reported plan to cut the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) by nearly 95 percent is facing opposition by more than 150 groups advocating for the ONDCP.
Andrew Kessler, a Washington based lobbyist who represents behavioral health practitioners, says the idea “faces steep opposition from both parties, and in both chambers. Last year there were rumors that OMB would try this and the backlash was so large that it never made it into the budget,” Kessler told The Influence.org. “This year it made it in, but opposition will be pretty fierce.”
Politico.com recently reported that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was considering moving the two main grants that ONDCP administers to other federal departments.
It would move the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) grant to the Department of Justice, and the and Drug-Free Communities (DFC) grant to the Department of Health and Human Services. Doing so would reduce ONDCP’s budget by about $340 million, officials said.
In a letter sent to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who has been leading the Trump administration’s response to the opioid epidemic, the group contended it would “create an unnecessary distraction from efforts to save our lives.” The group includes representatives from a range of professions engaged in fighting the opiate epidemic, including those in addiction prevention and treatment, criminal justice and social services.
HIDTA assists federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement in fighting drug trafficking. DFC is a federal drug prevention program which provides grants to community groups working to reduce substance abuse among young people.
“Not only would such a move drastically weaken these vitally important programs, and force them to compete for priority, direction, and funding in larger agencies with competing and higher priorities, but it would significantly impact ONDCP’s ability to effectively carry out its mission,” the groups, led by the Addiction Policy Forum, wrote.
“No other agency has this unique responsibility to coordinate efforts across the federal government to execute one shared drug strategy,” the groups wrote in the letter. “This oversight is instrumental in eliminating waste and fraud by preventing duplicative programs and strategies among the various federal agencies. Cutting ONDCP’s budget would significantly harm the effectiveness of this unique mission.”
In its budget draft, The administration said its plan “will enable ONDCP to focus resources on its core mission: to reduce drug use and its consequences by leading and coordinating the development, implementation and assessment of U.S. drug policy.”
A bipartisan group of senators has also written letters opposing the moves.
Created in 1988, ONDCP is responsible for providing guidance to the president on drug-related issues, coordinating the federal government’s efforts to reduce drug use and developing a national drug control strategy.
The agency has been without a leader since the Trump administration took office. the White House has nominated Jim Carroll, a deputy to White House chief of staff John Kelly, to fill the position. He will serve as deputy director and acting director, the White House said.
“I’m baffled at the idea of cutting the office or reducing it significantly and taking away its programs in the middle of an epidemic,” said Regina LaBelle, who served as ONDCP chief of staff during the Obama administration.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told Politico that she would “resist that move,” adding that she believes the grants should be housed at ONDCP, “within the executive branch and under the president’s purview” rather than at other agencies. Capito, who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees ONDCP, introduced legislation in November that authorized a modest boost to both grant programs.
An OMB spokesperson pointed out that that the budget is not yet finalized and is subject to change, adding “the president needs ONDCP to be a strong policy council to manage his drug control priorities.” She said that “DOJ and HHS are both major grant management organizations that can look holistically at allocations across law enforcement and drug prevention and treatment resources.”
Mark Dunn, lobbyist for the National Association of Treatment Providers, also believes that Congress will resist any attempts to eliminate ONDCP, as it has in the past.
“We are concerned that the decision to defund ONDCP signals a lack of commitment to dealing with substance abuse disorder issues, since we have not been made aware of how it would be replaced,” Dunn told The Influence. “We would be more encouraged if the administration made moves to implement the President’s own commission recommendations.”