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Program facing Trump budget cuts hosts AG Sessions in Charleston


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W. Va. — The chief law enforcement officer of the United States will speak at an event today in Charleston that is co-sponsored by an offshoot of an organization the Trump administration is working to defund by 95 percent.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is scheduled to speak at an event in Charleston today.
(AP file photo)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will offer opening remarks at a heroin and opioid response summit at the University of Charleston that is co-sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, a subsidiary of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The ONDCP, the White House’s point office for combating illicit drugs and maintaining recovery efforts, is a target on President Donald Trump’s fiscal hit list, according to a leaked document first reported in Politico.

The ONDCP, which oversees the anti-drug coalition, could see its annual budget fall from $388 million to $24 million, if Congress approves Trump’s proposal.

A spokesman for the coalition could not be reached for comment. Spokesmen for the DEA and the University of Charleston would not comment for this report.

Although organizers initially said Sessions would be available to reporters at the event, a spokesman with the Department of Justice issued a release Wednesday evening stating that Sessions no longer will be available for a news conference. The recent firing of FBI Director James Comey and a protest leading to the arrest of a citizen-journalist at the West Virginia Capitol on Tuesday during U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s visit are likely culprits for the change.

Since news of the leaked memo broke, the administration has taken flak for defunding its drug control operation as the heroin problem worsens across the nation and Trump continues to speak out against the growing problem.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., penned a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney urging him to reconsider the proposal and threatened to strike it down in committee if it makes it into the final budget proposal.

“If cuts to the ONDCP, including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas and Drug Free Communities Programs, are proposed in the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 Budget then I will lead a bipartisan group of my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee and in the Senate to reject those proposed cuts,” Capito wrote.

Both programs Capito mentioned are alive and well in West Virginia.

In the leaked memo, the draft justifies the cuts, claiming that the ONDCP produces “duplicative and burdensome administrative tasks” and the freed-up funds can be better used to address drug threats elsewhere.

At a news conference at the West Virginia Capitol on Tuesday centered around combating the heroin crisis, Price defended the proposed cuts to the ONDCP.

“[The ONDCP] is actually wasting taxpayer dollars and resources, and we think that’s not appropriate,” Price said. “What the president and the Office of Management and Budget Director Mulvaney [are] doing is to make sure the resources are going where they will have the greatest effect as possible.”

However, Rafael Lemaitre, a former staffer at the ONDCP, said calling the office inefficient is inaccurate. He said the department essentially is the quarterback that oversees the entirety of different narcotics programs ranging from criminal justice, to recovery and prevention.

“If President Trump is serious about addressing the opioid crisis, he wouldn’t cut the budget of the leading drug agency leading that battle by 96 percent,” he said.

He said funding the office actually saves money in the long run.

“ONDCP actually saves the taxpayers money by identifying and coordinating programs so they work together and actually reduce a drug problem that costs taxpayers over $200 million in social costs,” he said. “Slashing it would have the exact opposite effect — wasteful spending would abound and there would be no strategic focus.”

Sessions is scheduled to speak at 9 a.m. at the University of Charleston.

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