Attorney General Edwin Meese III announced yesterday that training for Drug Enforcement Administration agents will be shifted to the FBI Academy in Quantico next year, moving the agency a step closer to a complete and controversial merger with the FBI.
Drug agents now are trained at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center at Glynco, Ga., which serves at least 50 federal agencies.
Meese, who announced the plan during a visit to Glynco, described the transfer to the Virginia facility as part of a process of building closer cooperation between the FBI and the DEA.
"For three years now, the FBI and DEA have worked side by side in the war on drugs, with heartening success," Meese said. "Both organizations have special strengths, which makes combining the two so effective in fighting drug traffickers."
DEA Administrator John C. Lawn, joining Meese in Glynco, said, "The move will benefit both agencies. DEA's long-term expertise in drug enforcement and the excellent level of the DEA training staff certainly will enhance the professional, though limited, expertise of the FBI in this unique and demanding field.
"We've trained about 10 percent of the FBI's work force in drug enforcement at Glynco. The planned move will facilitate and build on that foundation," Lawn said.
The first step toward a possible merger of DEA into the FBI was taken in 1981 by then-Attorney General William French Smith, who gave the agencies joint jurisdiction over drug enforcement and ordered the DEA to report to the Justice Department through the FBI.
Both Lawn and his predecessor, Francis M. Mullen Jr., who retired last March, were transferred by the Reagan administration to the DEA from high-level FBI positions. Justice Department sources said yesterday that the administration is also preparing to announce the nomination of Thomas Kelly, the FBI's special agent in charge in Dallas, as deputy administrator of the DEA.
Meese said, "The special bond between DEA and the FBI dictates training their personnel at a common site."
But there has been resistance at both agencies to the concept of a merger.
Historically, the FBI was kept out of drug enforcement by longtime director J. Edgar Hoover because of his fear that immense drug profits could prove to be a corrupting influence on his agents.
In addition, there are logistical and bureaucratic differences between the two agencies. DEA agents are civil servants, while FBI agents are considered part of the "excepted service," meaning they do not have the same job protections as regular civil servants. For example, DEA agents may refuse transfers, while FBI agents can be required to move around the country.
Possibly the biggest obstacle to a merger is the general tension between agents of the two law enforcement agencies. FBI agents often look upon their DEA counterparts as long-haired "cowboys" who spend their time posing as drug dealers and getting into shootouts. On the other hand, many DEA agents see their FBI counterparts as accountants more comfortable with records than undercover work. They joke that an FBI agent's idea of going undercover is to take off his tie.
However, DEA sources said they expect a complete merger within the next two or three years. "Anybody that doesn't think that's going to happen somewhere down the road is kidding himself," one DEA agent said.