Bush May Cut Federal Drug Task Force

July 5 2005, 10:56 AM

Big changes may be coming to Colorado in the area of drug law enforcement. President Bush has proposed huge budget cuts for the "High Intestity Drug Trafficking Areas" (HIDTA) programs. The cuts could mean the HIDTA program for the Rocky Mountain Region, which covers Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Montana, would be shut down. The programs have been under the oversight of the National Drug Czar. Under Bush's plan, they would move to the Justice Department.

Nationally, there are 28 such programs, which work with local and state law enforcement agencies to coordinate anti-drug efforts in their regions. The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area programs identify illegal drug threats, fund anti- drug task forces, provide analysts and intelligence, and train state and local officers.

Local cops praise the program because of the cooperation it built between federal and state drug-fighting cops.

"This budget proposal deals Colorado with a tremendous setback," said Colorado Springs police Commander Kurt Pillard. "Colorado could potentially be placed in the position that they were in during the 1960s, where drug enforcement on the Western Slope of Colorado was nonexistent and drug trafficking organizations were basically given free rein."

So, why the move to close them? The Administration wants to concentrate on drug trafficking at a national, rather than state and local level. More importantly, it appears Congresspersons around the country have been porking out on the funds available through the program.

In a policy paper issued in May, Citizens Against Government Waste said the drug program began as a way to focus resources on borders and ports but soon grew into a way for influential lawmakers to funnel money to their districts. "The program has become a drug prevention funding free- for-all for power-hungry politicians to bring home the bacon to their districts," wrote the taxpayer group's Angela French, "and has decreased drug enforcement in areas where it is critically needed."

An investigation into former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell's designation of funds for new computers is still pending. He allegedly offered a no-bid contract to a long time fundraiser. The Justice Department swooped in and stopped the plan, giving rise to the investigation. Does the Rocky Mountain region really need a HIDTA, that employs 20 people full-time with an annual budget of $9.2 million? Or should state and local governments fund their own drug task forces?