The federal government's chief program to aid state and local drug enforcement has been so mired in bureaucracy that $192 million -- nearly half of this year's available funds -- has not been spent, according to a U.S. Conference of Mayors report released yesterday.
The report also said that in 20 states, including Michigan, Texas, Ohio, Missouri and Florida, no funds have been awarded this fiscal year to any city government. The mayor's group contends the drug problem is the greatest in urban areas.
The report was one of two released yesterday criticizing the federal anti-drug effort. The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine recommended that Congress nearly triple funding for drug treatment programs this year to help the estimated 5.5 million Americans in need of such services.
"The overall costs of drug problems are so high that reducing them even modestly is worthwhile," a special panel said in a study requested by Congress and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The Conference of Mayors report marks the latest effort in the group's three-year lobbying campaign to change the way federal drug funds are distributed -- a battle that has pitted the cities against the National Governors Association (NGA). Underlying the dispute is a larger debate over the most effective means for combating the drug problem -- attacking major trafficking organizations through federal and state governments or increased street-level enforcement by local police.
The Justice Department plans to award $450 million this fiscal year for state and local law enforcement assistance and the Bush administration has proposed $492 million for next year. Under current Justice Department funding formulas, 80 percent of those funds are sent to state governments, leaving further distribution decisions up to them.
But city officials have long charged that the process allows funding to be influenced by political considerations. By this summer, when three-quarters of the fiscal year was complete, 6 percent of the money had gone to the cities, with the bulk of the funds flowing to state agencies and "multi-jurisdictional" drug task forces that include rural communities, according to the mayors' report.
The conference president, Mayor Robert Isaac of Colorado Springs, charged yesterday that the money had become "bogged down" in federal and state bureaucracies. "The money has already been sent out by the Congress -- they've determined this to be a national interest, a war, a crisis," Isaac said. "Now put it where the troops are," he said. "This system of laundering through the states just doesn't work."
The issue is expected to be addressed in the next few days when the House takes up a crime bill approved by the Judiciary Committee. The bill includes an amendment by Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D-Ky.), strongly supported by the Conference of Mayors, that would earmark funds for cities. The NGA and the Bush administration oppose the switch, contending it would undercut federal and state drug strategies.
Velva Walter, spokeswoman for the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs, said she "can't verify" the figures released by the conference, but said it is possible that many cities have not "drawn down" funds still available to them.
She also said the Justice Department has been encouraging states to fund multi-agency drug task forces to investigate regional trafficking organizations, rather than spending the money on local police. The department's approach, she said, allows states to "cast as wide a net as they possibly can" and ensure some funds are spent in rural communities. "Rural jurisdictions are emerging as very attractive targets for drug traffickers and manufacturers," Walter said.