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Trump to propose major cut to anti-drug office: report
The Trump administration is proposing a major cut to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), seeking to slash the budget of the agency by 95 percent, according to Politico.
ONDCP is responsible for coordinating the government's drug control activities in the midst of an opioid epidemic that's killing more people per year than traffic accidents. Last year, the White House proposed the same cut, but it backed down in the face of immense pushback from advocates and lawmakers from both parties.
The proposal would move the two grant programs the office administers - High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas and Drug-Free Communities grants - under the purview of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), respectively. It would cut the office by $340 million, according to Politico.
An Office of Management and Budget (OMB) spokeswoman said she wouldn't confirm leaked or predecisional documents before the release of the president's budget, which typically comes out at the beginning of February.
"The President needs ONDCP to be a strong policy council to manage his drug control priorities, especially combatting the opioid epidemic, and coordinate all of the interagency activities," Meghan Burris said in a statement.
"DOJ and HHS are both major grant management organizations that can look holistically at allocations across law enforcement and drug prevention and treatment resources."
Jessica Nickel, who heads the Addiction Policy Forum, says it's her understanding that ONDCP hasn't received a passback - which is when OMB passes back a draft of a proposed budget to its agency.
Typically, agencies receive their passbacks in late November, and the delay could be an indicator cuts are on the horizon.
Created in 1988, ONDCP is also charged with advising the president on drug-related issues and creating an annual national drug control strategy.
It's been operating without a Senate-confirmed director. Taylor Weyeneth, 24, - whose only professional experience before ONDCP was on Trump's presidential campaign - rose from a low-level position to become deputy chief of staff largely due to turnover and vacancies, The Washington Post reported over the weekend.
President Trump's nominee to lead the office - Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) - withdrew his nomination to helm ONDCP in October. At the time, he faced backlash over a joint Washington Post/60 Minutes investigation that named him the chief advocate of a bill critics say made it harder for the Drug Enforcement Administration to freeze suspicious drug shipments. He has defended his record, and said the bill he championed was different than the version that was ultimately signed into law.
Former officials and advocates say ONDCP serves an important function that's vital to fighting the country's drug epidemic.
"ONDCP leads the way on the opioid issue, and I'm afraid of what happens to drug policy if we don't have a coordinating body to oversee all aspects of the issue," Regina LaBelle, a former ONDCP chief of staff under President Obama, said.
"For a tiny cost saving measure, to risk lives and to take out our one coordinating office and to make vulnerable some of our key programs, we just think is the wrong policy move," said Nickel.