Drug Policy

Every Federal Agency Has Some Fat. Here's How to Cut It.

A lesson from the National Drug Intelligence Center and the White House fear factory.


White House Flickr Feed

When the Department of Justice announced in early 2012 that it was closing the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the state's delegation to D.C. gave the White House—and their colleagues in Congress—an earful. "The Obama Administration's decision to close Johnstown's National Drug Intelligence Center is 100 percent wrong," read a statement from Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. The decision was "extremely disappointing" to Democratic Sen. Bob Casey. "We should be outraged," wrote former Democratic Rep. Mark Critz.

Outside the Pennsylvania delegation, no one cared. Democrats and Republicans alike (though especially Republicans) long considered the 19-year-old, scandal-plagued NDIC a huge waste of time and money; more than anything, a reminder of former Democratic Rep. John Murtha's ability to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars worth of pork back to Pennsylvania's 12th district. President Bush tried to close it four times. Sen. Tom Coburn wanted it shut down. The DEA thought it was a joke. The Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Office of the Director of National intelligence didn't need it or want it. And so, after much wrangling, Republicans in the House gave the National Drug Intelligence Center and its backers two options: No money and a closing date of late 2011, or $20 million and a closing date in 2012. The NDIC took the money and closed on June 15, 2012.

The agency briefly returned to the news after I reported that the Office of Management and Budget had released a report after the NDIC closed saying that sequestration would hurt the center's $20 million budget. On March 1, the OMB did it again. After confirming with the DOJ that the NDIC is not in danger of losing any money, because it does not exist (a product, the DOJ says, of the OMB basing its sequestration reports on the FY 2012 budget), it occurred to me that the National Drug Intelligence Center can still teach us something. Because even though the center was a scandal-plagued waste of space, time, and cash created by a notoriously unethical politician, the NDIC is also evidence that this presidential administration knows how to cut an agency's budget without hamstringing it. 

Let's rewind: After Republicans won the House in 2010, the NDIC knew it was headed for a fight, and prepared accordingly. According to Rep. Critz, the NDIC worked with Democrats from Pennsylvania and the Office of Management and Budget to come up with a FY 2012 budget request for $25 million—$19 million less than what the NDIC had received the year before.

Here's how the NDIC proposed cutting its own fat:

  • By curtailing "administrative and overhead costs, including travel, vehicles, and IT expenses, as well as other management efficiencies," the NDIC was able to reduce its FY 2012 budget request by $8 million.  
  • By "focusing NDIC's intelligence analysis efforts on key reporting needs" and "eliminat[ing] non-critical intelligence and analysis expenses," the NDIC was able to reduce its budget request by $5.9 million. 
  • The elimination of unfunded positions and the "savings associated with attrition, reducing TDYs, and other staff-related activities" helped the NDIC save another $5.3 million. 

While the NDIC's offer to cut its $44 million budget by 43 percent failed to placate critics of waste and pork, the fact that the agency was able to come up with $19 million in savings is pretty instructive for the debate over sequestration. Even more instructive? When it came time for the DEA to absorb that part of the National Drug Intelligence Center most essential to collecting drug intelligence, it picked up just under 60 employees.

One wonders what the other 180 or so were doing; and which other federal agencies could find a sensible way to reduce their own budgets if they were facing a guillotine instead of a barber's shears. 

NEXT: Famous Hanging Death of Census Worker Proved to Be Suicide

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  1. The other 180 were making photo copies of their butts, checking Facebook, playing WoW, and posting at Huffington Post.

      1. Sorry, that guy BuSab Agent was first. Better luck next time BuSab Agent.

        1. I’m torn between elation and shame.

  2. Gotta love US politics. Best POlitics money can buy. Wow.


    1. You SF’d the link.

      Always wanted to say that.

      … Hobbit

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  4. Has “some” fat? Most of the government IS fat. It’s all kleptos up there. If there were any justice, Obama would work in a salt mine the rest of his life to pay back some smidgen of the taxpayers’ money that he has wasted on trips to Hawaii. Congressional pensions? Worthless cockroaches. Anyway….

    Means test social security and medicare. (And start phasing both out, with completion in 20 years.)

    Shut down the EPA, commerce department, HHS, TSA, USDA, education department, labor department….etc

    End federal student loan programs.

    Shut down NASA and transfer anything critical to the Air Force.

    Repeal Obamacare. End all federal involvement in the mortgage industry.

    1. “End all federal involvement in the mortgage industry.”

      But then you wouldn’t be able to buy a house unless you had money! [mock outrage]

    2. Have to agree with most of what Joshua said, the line of ‘some fat’ is typical false choice Red Team/Blue Team wording.

      Most of the US Government is FAT, beyond even a minarchist or anarchist view, on a purely Constitutional basis the US Government has far out grown it’s powers and it’s activities. The US Government has become the bed bound morbidly obese woman from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. So a simple diet isn’t the question, we need a vast reduction in caloric intake to get back to a game fight weight.

      God save us from the pervasive False Choices.

  5. Articles like this are counter-productive. One man’s pork is another man’s essential service. Until we realize that entire departments of the government should eliminated will we make significant inroads towards limited government.

    Remember Groucho’s quote: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and misapplying the wrong remedies.”

  6. “Shut down NASA and transfer anything critical to the Air Force.”

    Not shut down NASA, but instead streamline it and modify it’s R&D. Jerry Pournelle has said it much better than I ever could, but NASA should return to implementing X-type programs… then as soon as data is accumulated, turn that data over to the private sector for any exploitation.

    NASA, overall, has paid for itself many times over with the results of it’s R&D (either it’s own, or NASA-instigated by private enterprise)

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  11. Uncle Sam could save ten times this amount yearly if they stopped all the elite tax~free foundation entitlement$..

    Why would America offer Bill Gates any opportunity to not pay his fair share of USA tax$ through his Bill & Melinda Gates foundation?

    Bill Gates is worth $65 billion & controls his tax~free foundation worth $40 billion while sending tens of billions of these tax~free$ abroad !

    Tax~Free Billions leaving America with our 14 to 16 million hungry USA kids praying nightly for food should never be happening <<br /
    We encourage U.S.Congress to enact new realistic legislation forcing USA tax~free foundation$ to only be used in America where this exemption entitlement originates..

    All future credit for foreign aid sent abroad should go to USA tax payers & Uncle Sam, not Elite individuals like Bill Gates not paying their fair share of tax$..

    Bill Gates Microsoft Corp never paid U.S.tax$ last year either !

    1. What is fairness in taxation? Forget the anarchist stuff, if we have a minimal constitutional government a small defensive army, courts, police, fire, and no entitlements. Assuming we can digest that, what is “fair”?

      Seems to me FAIR is every working age person paying the exact same amount of income. Less Fair than that would be each working age person paying the same percentage %%% amount of income. You can’t connect the word Fair to a progressive tax system. It is unethical on its face. I’ll even still eat an unfair progressive tax system as an improvement over our current system,if we could agree to flatten the tax code with a max amount of no more than 15% on any kind of income. Why 15%? I don’t fucking know other than every % after 15% makes my soul ache at the theft. I suppose it’s easier to rationalize a little theft over the massive theft, it’s like I feel a little better about a 1 hour rape versus getting stuck in a dungeon for weeks. They both would be horrible, but one a little less so.

      Many other libertarians have said it better than me, but the primary problems with corporations are (a) liability and (b) crony tax codes and give aways. Fix the liability issue and make it no better than that of an individual. Provide some plan to flatten the tax code and stop trying to pick winners and losers.

      Every other conversation about FAIR is unethical progressive drivel.

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