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Conway freezing out experts, relying on political staff in drug policy office: report

White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayPence's relationship with Trump fractures in final days Kellyanne Conway condemns violence, supports Trump in statement on Capitol riots Kellyanne Conway calls for violent Capitol protesters to 'just STOP' MORE's work at the administration's opioid abuse policy office has led to policy experts being frozen out of the decision-making process in favor of political appointees, according to a report in Politico.

The news site reports that President TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE is expected to propose massive budget cuts this year to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) as it struggles to function without a director or chief of staff, who was fired in December.

"It’s fair to say the ONDCP has pretty much been systematically excluded from key decisions about opioids and the strategy moving forward,” a former Trump administration staffer told Politico.

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The agency's acting director, Rich Baum, has not been invited to Conway's opioid cabinet meetings despite serving in the office for decades, Politico reports, and instead two political appointees without any relevant experience attend on his behalf.

One political appointee working on a public education campaign with the office is Andrew Giuliani, the 32-year-old son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), who the White House told Politico has no background in drug policy.

Giuliani, 32, works with the White House Office of Public Liason, a spokesman told The Hill in an email.

Republicans in Congress who represent states hit hardest by the opioid crisis say they are unsure as to what Conway's actual role is at the ONDCP.

“I haven’t talked to Kellyanne at all and I’m from the worst state for this,” said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time GOP senator: Trump rhetoric on election fraud 'certainly not helpful' in Georgia Senate GOP opposition grows to objecting to Electoral College results MORE, (R-W.Va.). “I’m uncertain of her role.”

“If I want technical advice, I’m going to work with Baum,” added Rep. Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthurChamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch Republican David Richter wins NJ primary in race to challenge Rep. Andy Kim What to watch in New Jersey's primaries on Tuesday MORE (R-N.J.). “If I want to get a message to the president, Kellyanne is somebody that I know I can talk to.”

Opioid deaths surged in 2016, the deadliest year so far of the abuse epidemic. Deaths from drug overdoses related to opiates increased nearly 28 percent, from roughly 33,000 in 2015 to more than 42,200 in 2016.

Amid skyrocketing numbers, former ONDCP officials say the drug policy office is not taking a leading role in addressing the crisis.

“I don’t know what the agency is doing. I really don’t,” said Regina LaBell, the ONDCP's chief of staff under President Obama.

 “They aren’t at the level of visibility you’d think they’d be at by now.”