President supports funding Murtha-backed drug center

The Obama administration supports funding for a Johnstown, Pa.-based intelligence center that just two years ago sparked a nasty floor fight and subsequent public apology from Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.).

President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2010 provides $44 million for the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC). The new commitment is a 180-degree reversal from the most recent Bush budgets, which slated the center for closure after an Office of Management and Budget review concluded that it duplicated other federal drug-interdiction efforts.

Department of Justice spokesman Dean Boyd provided pages from the DoJ Budget and Performance Summary Fiscal Year 2010 as an explanation of Justice’s support for the program. The summary does not address Republican criticism that the NDIC duplicates other drug-related intelligence work.

“NDIC supports policymakers by providing timely strategic intelligence on the production, consumption and trafficking of illegal drugs,” the document states. “This is done through information collection and analysis from law enforcement and national security agencies.”

The new budget shifts funding allotted through the Department of Defense to Justice and changes the center’s name to the DoJ’s Center for Strategic Intelligence.

According to the summary, the “most significant challenge for NDIC, currently, is its lack of a permanent funding source.” Placing it under Justice control would “establish the Department of Justice as its permanent funding source.”

Republicans have tried and failed to eliminate funding for the NDIC for nearly four years. President Bush and allies in Congress labeled the center a “Clinton-era pork-barrel boondoggle” that exists only as a jobs program for Murtha’s district, in which it is located.

Among political observers, the NDIC is best known as the subject of a nasty floor fight between Murtha and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) in 2007. The spat began with Rogers offering a motion to eliminate $23 million in funding for the NDIC. Rogers accused Murtha of approaching him on the House floor and threatening his earmark requests, which led Murtha to issue Rogers an apology.

In between Murtha’s threat and the apology, Rogers offered a motion to rebuke Murtha for violating House ethics rules by vowing to work against earmarks Rogers requested for his Michigan district.

Rogers shook his head when he heard that Obama’s Justice Department now supports an additional $44 million for the enterprise.

“Just a month ago I had discussions with those in law enforcement who receive the [NDIC] information, and they were still saying it’s a waste of money,” he said. “These resources for drug interdiction are hard to find and they could be directed in much better ways, like down south to fight the Mexican drug cartels.”

Murtha, however, argues that the center plays a vital role in the nation’s battle against drug trafficking. He contends that Republicans started targeting the center as retribution for his vocal opposition to the war in Iraq.

“It’s unfortunate that for the past few years the Bush administration used the NDIC as a political chip because I disagreed with their Iraq policy,” the congressman said in a written statement.

With a Democrat in the White House, Murtha predicted the NDIC would continue to be funded and also credited the shift in support to the center’s staff and their hard work.

“Their highly respected expertise and skills are particularly important today given the current situation along the Mexican border,” he continued.

Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ariz.), an ardent opponent of pork-barrel projects, said Republicans started targeting NDIC long before Murtha came out against the Iraq war.

“If you’re looking for a place to [cut the budget], there is no better place than the NDIC,” Flake said. “It’s screaming out loud to be cut.”

The Arizona Republican characterized Obama’s budgetary support as nothing more than “political patronage.”

Rep. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Bottom Line MORE (R-Ill.), a member of the Appropriations Committee who led the effort to eliminate NDIC funding two years ago, said the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Agency should address all drug interdiction efforts.

“This facility simply exists by virtue of its benefactor,” Kirk said.

Murtha spokesman Matthew Mazonkey said the NDIC has an open-door invitation for any member of Congress who wants to visit the center or receive a briefing on its programs.

“It’s unfortunate that those who continue to criticize the NDIC have done neither,” he said in a written statement. “The NDIC briefed the House Intelligence panel on its programs. Unfortunately Rep. Rogers, a member of the committee, failed to show up.”

Mazonkey also pointed to a newly released NDIC report that he said shows a “significant increase” in kidnappings, heroin seizures and firearms trafficking” in Arizona.

“I’m sure Congressman Flake is also concerned with these issues, but it’s troubling that he would oppose the center that is helping provide his constituents with the resources they need to identify, track and combat these problems,” he said.