CBSN

Trump administration plans to gut drug prevention office, eliminate budgetary authority

President Trump is planning on gutting the White House Office of National Drug Control and Policy by slashing more than $340 million from its budget, a Trump administration source confirmed to CBS News. 

The cuts proposed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) are part of plans to effectively dismantle the office by eliminating its grant-making capabilities. Two grants -- the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and Drug-Free Communities (DFC) -- would be relocated to, and managed by, the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services. 

A spokesperson for the White House Office of Management and Budget did not deny plans to slash the office, first reported by Politico on Thursday, but said the Trump administration's 2019 budget was not final. 

"The president needs ONDCP to be a strong policy council to manage his drug control priorities," an OMB spokesperson told CBS News.

"The Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services are both major grant management organizations that can look holistically at allocations across law enforcement and drug prevention and treatment resources," the spokesperson added. 

An administration official sharply disagreed with OMB's thinking.

"It doesn't make sense to move these programs out of ONDCP," the official said. "DOJ and HHS have a bunch of competing priorities on their plates and keeping these anti-drug programs at the anti-drug agency is a no-brainer."

HIDTA serves as a catalyst for coordination among federal state and local enforcement entities and funds task forces across the country. DFC is the nation's largest drug prevention program. ONDCP, which currently administers those two grants, is charged with outlining and managing the federal government's strategy to reduce drug use -- including the opioid crisis. Former ONDCP Communications Director Rafael Lemaitre called the move to declaw ONDCP at the height of the opioid epidemic "a dereliction of duty."

"It's the only agency in government with the expertise and authority to look at the drug problem holistically and mandate action across the board," he said. "Addressing our national drug problem is complicated and requires a well-resourced team of experts who focus on this epidemic full time. Now is not the time to cut the ground out from the public servants working to save lives." 
"It doesn't make sense to move thse programs out of ONDCP," DOJ and HHS have a bunch of competing priorities on their plates and keping these anti-drug programs at the anti-drug agency is a no-brainer," an administration official said. 

OMB proposed similar cuts to Mr. Trump's drug office last year, outlined in a leaked memo obtained by CBS News. Funding was ultimately preserved, but the proposal cut nearly half of the office's staff along with intelligence and research functions at the agency. The idea of eliminating ONDCP's grant-making capabilities was also floated. An OMB spokesperson described the move as transitioning ONDCP into an office like the National Security Council or the National Economic Council. 

"Just because the NSC doesn't issue grants doesn't mean that the White House doesn't care about national security," the spokesperson argued. 

A former ONDCP official said that the OMB has long desired to take away ONDCP's budgetary authority because they see it under their purview. 

ONDCP has been hamstrung since Mr. Trump took office as he has yet to nominate a new director, informally known as the nation's drug czar. Mr. Trump has also made some questionable staffing appointments. The Washington Post reported last week that a 24-year-old former campaign staffer was serving as the second in command at ONDCP. 

Mr. Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in October, but the White House has not formally asked Congress for any additional funding towards the crisis. The emergency declaration was set to expire next week. The acting secretary of Health and Human Services renewed the emergency for another 90 days on Friday before the government shut down.