In its Jan. 5 editorial, The Post urged the president to sign the crime bill passed in the final minutes of the lame-duck Congress. As the editorial noted, the bill fails to include key items, such as urgently needed improvements in the areas of bail and sentencing. Instead, it contains provisions certain to create new and serious law enforcement problems.
One of these is the "career criminal" provision, which would authorize federal prosecution of armed robbers or burglars who have twice before been convicted of similar offenses. The idea has merit but, in the form of this bill, it would create more problems than it would solve.
The provision contains an unacceptable and possibly unconstitutional restraint on federal prosecutions. It would allow a state or local prosecutor to veto any federal prosecution that might also be under his authority, even if the attorney general had approved it. Such a restraint on federal prosecutorial discretion and delegation of executive responsibility raises grave constitutional and practical concerns. It may well increase friction between federal prosecutors and their state and local counterparts at a time when we are doing so much to decrease it through the Law Enforcement Coordinating Committees we have established throughout the United States.
Another laudable purpose, coordination of the fight against illegal drug trafficking, is translated into another misguided provision in this bill. The bill would create a "drug czar," a kind of super-Cabinet officer to oversee the work of all agencies engaged in drug enforcement. The last Congress held no hearings on the need for such a new layer of bureaucracy or on its practical implications. A drug czar is not only unnecessary, but poses a serious threat to effective law enforcement.
President Reagan has fully committed his administration to bringing the drug menace under control. The attorney general, as this country's chief law enforcement officer, is responsible for overall coordination of that effort. The Cabinet Council on Legal Policy, which the attorney general chairs, and its working group on Drug Supply Reduction coordinate the agencies involved. Broad drug strategy to reduce both supply and demand is formulated in the White House Drug Abuse Policy Office. Cooperation between federal, state and local enforcement agencies has been greatly improved through the attorney general's Law Enforcenent Coordinating Committees and through joint agency intelligence and operations centers in Miami and El Paso.
Moreover, the 12 new drug enforcement task forces established by the president last October will include the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, Customs, IRS and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. They will form drug investigative teams fully utilizing the unique expertise of each agency. In this way, every aspect of drug-abuse prevention and control is now coordinated at the policy, management and operating levels.
The drug czar would, at best, duplicate this work, resulting in waste of scarce resources and increased inefficiency. At worst, the creation of a drug czar would replace coordination with conflict and confusion.
The extraordinarily confusing and ambiguous provisions of the bill make the latter result likely. The bill leaves unclear, for example, the extent of the drug czar's control over the resources of the various departments. Nor does it specify his relationship to the Cabinet officers now responsible to the president for the activities of those departments. If the czar is to have the power to direct the drug enforcement operations of other Cabinet officers, the very nature of our Cabinetsystem of government would be drastically altered. If he is not to have such power, he could do little more than interfere with the existing coordinating mechanisms, which have been working well.
Either way, increased friction and disruption of law enforcement efforts with another bureaucratic layer in the chain of command is the likely result.
The drug enforcement effort does not need czars and additional bureaucrats; it needs more agents. President Reagan's 12 new task forces will add more than 1,000 additional agents and 200 more prosecutors. This is the first increase in federal law enforcement resources in a decade. And it will be done with as few resources wasted on red tape and bureaucracy as possible.
A drug czar, and the inevitable large staff needed to carry out his functions, is precisely the wrong way to go.