The White House office responsible for fighting illegal drug use has focused for nearly a decade on youths smoking marijuana instead of a broader strategy that would sufficiently target adult drug users, according to a new study.
The nonprofit National Academy of Public Administration says the $1.2 million study, which it planned to release Thursday, found that the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George W. Bush relied on selected data to show progress in combating illegal drug use by youth.
The office did not highlight less positive results among adults or pursue a comprehensive anti-drug strategy across age and demographic groups, the report found.
"Such an approach to strategy neither addresses the depth and breadth of illicit drug use and its consequences nor lays the fundamental basis for making enduring national resource commitments," the report stated.
Under congressional pressure, the office began to expand its focus last year but still lacks an overall strategy based on broad data sources, the report said.
It also suggested a politicized environment in the drug office, saying intern applicants were asked about their voting histories and participation in recent elections.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the study in advance of its publication.
Bush's former drug-policy director, John Walters, denounced the report as erroneous and biased by the Senate committee that commissioned it. The report described a frosty relationship between lawmakers and the drug office. Walters said the new report overlooked such accomplishments as expanding drug treatment, workplace drug testing and launching prevention programs in mainstream doctor settings.
"To have this kind of poor-quality evaluation masquerading as an outside expert efficiency review, pointing out changes that will weaken the office, is wrong," he said.
Walters denied any political criteria for his staff and said he did not recall the intern applications.
The anti-drug office is known to most people for its public-service advertisements, such as the "Above the Influence" and "Parents, the Anti-drug" spots. Its latest ad features teen actors describing their achievements after taking drugs: "I stole from my little sister," a boy says. Another teen says, "I got straight D's."
Until President Barack Obama names a new director of drug policy, informally known as the drug czar, White House officials say they are not discussing anti-drug plans. The president is widely expected to appoint Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to the post.
Obama is the first president to acknowledge that he used marijuana in high school and college and that he tried cocaine, an admission he has said can help young people understand that they can make mistakes and still recover.
Policy and advocacy groups are watching for shifts in Obama's drug policies. Already the administration's new economic stimulus package includes $2 billion for a grant program that has supported drug task forces, prisoner rehabilitation and after-school programs but was slashed during the Bush administration.
The White House drug office was created through 1988 legislation largely crafted by then-Sen. Joe Biden, now the vice president.
Obama will have a chance to repair sour relations between the drug office and Congress, which has complained about a lack of information and consultation by the drug czar.
"It was hard to determine whether we were making progress in our efforts to address the drug problem because the measuring tools did not seem to be very consistent," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Drug Policy.
The report said the drug czar has had one supervisor for every two employees but lacked key subject matter experts in areas like toxicology, public health and social services. The academy panel said the office has not sufficiently used available data, other agencies' expertise or advisory panels.
The drug office is down to 86 employees because a quarter of its 106-member staff were political appointees who left when Obama took office.
By RITA BEAMISH
February 26, 2009