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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
Outside the Pennsylvania delegation, no one cared. Democrats and
Republicans alike (though especially Republicans) long considered
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
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
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