Is the Drug Czar Head of the DEA?

The Bush administration has nominated John Walters to be the nation’s drug czar and indicated it will nominate Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., to be head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. What’s the difference between the two jobs?

The head of the DEA gets to oversee the folks with guns who bust down doors and wear cool windbreakers that say DEA. The DEA is a law enforcement division of the Department of Justice; its mandate is to investigate and arrest people who aren’t obeying the nation’s drug laws. The agency has 9,132 employees, of whom 4,561 are special agents, and a congressionally authorized budget of $1.44 billion for this year. The DEA was formally created as a separate agency in 1973, but its functions go back to Prohibition. It also has its own museum.

The drug czar, formally known as the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, gets to oversee the folks who write a lot of reports about how the war on drugs is going and scrutinize how other federal agencies are spending their drug-fighting money. ONDCP reports directly to the White House, has about 150 employees, and has a budget this year of about $500 million. Its mandate is to create and implement a national drug control strategy and make sure the $18 billion the federal government will dole out this year to fight drugs really fights drugs in a way that is creative, implementable, and strategic. ONDCP was created in 1988, and the first drug czar was William Bennett (who wrote with Walters and John J. DiIulio, head of Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, a now-discredited book on juvenile criminals). Each year the drug czar is required to release a lengthy annual report on our nation’s drug control strategy that can be summed up as “We can lick this if we get more money.” The ONDCP does not have cool jackets or a museum.

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