President Reagan will make a whirlwind visit to South Florida Wednesday because he is "pleased with the performance" of the special drug task force established there and he "wanted to personally tell the working people how he felt," a White House official said yesterday.
The president will arrive in Miami tonight, and will spend 40 minutes Wednesday morning making two speeches, getting briefed by the crew of a Coast Guard cutter and touring an exhibit that Washington officials said will probably include seized marijuana and cocaine.
His schedule calls for Air Force One to take off shortly after noon for the return trip to Washington.
At his first stop, the president will receive a 10-minute closed briefing on the Coast Guard's drug interdiction program to block drugs from entering the country by stopping ships on the ocean. Then he will stand at dockside and as part of his five-minute remarks, present a commendation to the crew of the cutter Dauntless for their anti-drug work and conclude, according to sources, by turning and giving a military-style salute to the crew gathered on the deck of the ship. To capture that salute, a single network pool television camera will be allowed aboard the cutter.
"This is not a big publicity stunt," one official in Washington said yesterday. The president plans to do some "morale building" among the members of the task force, he said.
At the president's second stop of the day, Homestead Air Force Base, there will be a 15-minute tour, according to sources, through a series of exhibits including a Cobra helicopter of the type used to follow drug smugglers. In addition, federal agents will be standing by, available to answer questions on undercover drug operations.
Finally, Reagan's second speech of the day, expected to last 10 minutes, will be to a gathering in a hangar that will include individuals working on the task force and the 50-person executive committee of the Miami Citizens Against Crime, a private organization that spurred the original creation of the task force.
The Miami trip "has been pending since the election campaign," an aide said yesterday, but White House planners held off "because it would look too political."
Since the Nov. 2 midterm election, Reagan aides said, the planners have looked for a time when they could "go to Miami in conjunction with some other appearance."
That opportunity apparently came when the president accepted an invitation to speak this afternoon at the convention of the United States League of Savings Associations and link it to a fund-raiser later today for Louisiana Gov. David Treen, who is up for reelection next year.
The South Florida task force was organized last January under the direction of Vice President Bush to fight the wave of violent crime in Miami that stemmed from the area's drug trade. Its staff of 914 was mostly existing personnel borrowed from around the country, a move that avoided any expenditure of new funds but cut back on activities in other areas.
One Reagan aide said yesterday the task force "had broken the back of Miami's reign of violence." Although the interdiction program has made only a slight dent in the amount of incoming drugs, he said, "It has shown we have the capability to have an impact if we get all the federal agencies working together."
Last Oct. 14, Reagan announced that the South Florida task force had been so successful, he planned to set up 12 new drug task forces covering the remainder of the country and involving the hiring of 1,200 additional agents and prosecutors with an estimated start-up cost this year of $160 million to $200 million.
At the time of the president's statement, however, officials at the Office of Management and Budget and the agencies involved had not settled on where the money would come from to start the additional task forces.
As of yesterday, no agreement had yet been reached on funds for the new task forces. Meanwhile, the dollar costs of the present South Florida program have begun to cut into other law enforcement programs, according to federal officials involved.
For example, law enforcement sources said yesterday that the transfer of drug investigators into the South Florida task force has disrupted a number of heroin investigations in other parts of the country.