The House yesterday passed, by voice vote, measures to strengthen drug-enforcement coordination in the White House and increase penalties for drug traffickers.
The bill would increase the powers of the Office of Drug Abuse Policy to coordinate the drug-enforcement activities of 17 agencies in eight Cabinet-level departments. First-year outlays for the office are expected to be about $500,000.
The administration strongly opposed a similiar effort last year to set up a Cabinet-level "drug czar," saying it would only create another layer of bureaucracy.
Primarily because of his opposition to the "drug czar" provision, President Reagan last year vetoed a crime bill that contained a number of administration proposals.
The Senate has passed a differing measure establishing a drug council made up of Cabinet officers from agencies involved in anti-drug activities.
Capitol Hill aides said the White House is still afraid that the House version would interfere with the existing Cabinet structure.
Under another measure approved by the House, fines for drug trafficking could be increased tenfold. Drug offenders could be penalized for up to twice their gross profits or proceeds if that totaled more than the fine specified for the crime involved. In addition, the bill would allow informers to be paid up to $250,000 per case, five times the current amount.
The Customs Service would also be allowed to seize and keep up to $100,000 worth of property through administrative action, compared with the current limit of $10,000.
In other action, the House approved, by voice vote, a bill that would authorize the Equal Access to Justice Act permanently. The law, which will expire this year, allows small businesses and certain individuals to collect attorney fees from the government when they win lawsuits in which the government's position is not found to be justified.
Individuals with a net worth of up to $1 million or businesses, organizations and local governments with a net worth of less than $5 million would be eligible. The law is designed to ensure that such persons or groups would not be deterred by a lack of resources from defending themselves against unjustified government action.