In declaring war against drugs without vastly increasing the federal budget, President Bush is hoping that a relatively small increase in federal funds can leverage a much greater response from state and local officials.
On Wednesday, his idea already was meeting with substantial skepticism from mayors and police chiefs who will be called upon to see that most of the actual fighting on the cities' streets is carried out.
They contend the extra $200 million the President proposes to give state and local governments for more law enforcement results is a mere 800 police officers in a nation that has 83,000 units of local government. Administration officials argue that such criticism misses the point.
The Administration's hope is that the new dose of federal funds can stimulate innovative programs at the local level--everything from better ways to conduct "sting" operations to boot camps for teen-age drug abusers.
Needs Local Support
Without a strong local response, the plan easily could suffer the fate of past White House anti-crime and anti-drug campaigns.
"I think we've learned," said Charles Work, a top official in the defunct Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, ". . . that you just can't dump money out there" and get solutions.
But while money may not be enough all by itself, Bush's critics argue that more funds are, nonetheless, needed. The mixed reaction the plan has gotten so far from state and local officials illustrates the difficulty Bush faces. The President and his aides believe they can combat drugs through federal coordination and inspiration. But many officials at the local level, where the bulk of the actual drug fighting goes on, would prefer cash.
"We'll get less than $30 million from this," New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo said in a radio interview Wednesday. "We're not ungrateful," he added, but in the context of $6 billion already being spent by the state and its cities, "that doesn't mean anything."
Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, called the plan "only a first step."
And Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the Democrats' leading spokesman on drug issues, noted that as a condition for getting the funds, Bush wants to require local government to take a series of steps that would overwhelm the new federal resources.
Bush's program calls on state and local officials to increase their police forces by 1%, Biden said, a step that would cost about $244 million nationwide. The plan also would require states to increase drug testing in their criminal justice systems, a step that would cost more than $100 million.
Moreover, Bush is hoping to fund his drug plan by reducing other programs, including housing and economic development programs, that provide substantial aid to cities. In the end, the National League of Cities estimates that large cities would be net losers of funds under Bush's plan, according to Frank Shafroth, the organization's federal relations director.
Officials Defend Plan
Some law enforcement officials outside the Administration defended Bush's plan. Charles D. Reynolds, president of the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police said, for example, that "we keep hearing it is not enough. No one is able to answer what is enough, and I'm not sure whatever amount (of money) the President proposed would be enough. It's in the eye of the beholder."
Bush's aides, similarly, dismiss much of the criticism as politically inspired. "No matter what amount of money this President--any Republican President--proposes for just about anything in this arena of social policy . . . (it) will not be enough," William J. Bennett, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in a speech Wednesday. The criticisms, he said, are "less a product of reflection and more a product of reflex."
The grant strategy that Bennett has devised for Bush is based on two decades of experience in channeling money to cities and states to stimulate crime fighting efforts on the local level.
What makes Administration officials hope their plan will work where past efforts failed is the tight focus it places on drugs in contrast to past programs that, according to critics, wasted much of the federal money spent on them.
The Bush plan "is very different than the scatter-gun approach" used in the past, said Clifford L. Karchmer, associate director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based police law enforcement think tank. "This is much more focused."
Follows Existing Pathway
Nearly all of the money would flow through the Justice Department's existing grant-giving agency, the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Following the pathway that already exists in federal law, the money would not go directly to localities, but would go, instead, to state governments which, in turn, would distribute the funds to cities and towns.
The bulk of the money, 70% of the total, would go to states under a formula based on population. The remaining 30% would be distributed at the discretion of the Justice Department in response to plans submitted by would-be recipients.
The plan already is raising hackles among mayors and their representatives in Washington, renewing an old turf fight between states and cities over who gets to control the flow of federal largess.