The Trump administration is moving to shift the two primary functions of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to new departments, resulting in a 95 percent reduction in the office's budget and essentially gutting its purpose - all in the midst of a national opioid crisis.
According to Politico, this is the second time President Donald Trump has attempted to strike a significant blow to the ONDCP, having unsuccessfully attempted to cut its grant funding completely last year.
The plan would shift the office’s two main grant programs, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas grant and the Drug Free Communities Act, to the Justice and Health and Human Services departments, respectively, multiple sources in the administration and others working with the government on the opioid crisis told POLITICO.
The move would result in a reduction of about $340 million, or 95 percent of the ONDCP’s budget.
The current proposal is not the only indicator that Trump is not treating the opioid crisis with the urgency it deserves:
Trump hasn’t appointed a permanent director or “drug czar,” to lead ONDCP or asked Congress for additional funding states say is needed to tackle the crisis. The administration has also emphasized a law-and-order approach that experts say only constitutes a narrow part of the solution — one that if overemphasized could harm more struggling patients than it helps.
It is unlikely that the budget proposal will be well-received, as lawmakers are already indicating they will push back against the move:
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.
And it's clear that the Trump administration is flying solo on this decision, because the commission Trump formed to provide guidance on handling the crisis recommended no such action:
Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a member of Trump’s opioid advisory commision, said the move goes against the panel’s recommendations, which advised fortifying the ONDCP. The panel also endorsed both grants as crucial to overall response efforts.
“It guts the two main purposes of ONDCP,” Kennedy said. “It really undermines the mission.”
Others are concerned it not only undermines the mission of the office but will radically alter how those programs are implemented entirely:
David Kelley, congressional affairs liaison for the National HIDTA Directors Association, said if HIDTA gets moved under DOJ, U.S. attorneys would control the program and “state law enforcement voices would be lost.” Under ONDCP, federal, state and local law enforcement all have equal power and collaborate with each other on a daily basis.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt it will effectively eliminate the HIDTA program as we know it today,” Kelley said.