Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Morning-after Question: Who will be the Obama Administration's drug policy appointees?

In this morning's inbox:

I assume that you know the process by which the short lists for the new heads of ONDCP, DEA, NIDA, etc. will be formulated.
Do you know who will be compiling those lists, i.e. who has the task of planning for the formulation of drug policy in this administration?

This morning, few outside the campaign know yet the answers to these questions.

Drug policy and the drug policy chiefs are low priority. There is no urgency to fill these positions from the public or political realm.

A transition team will be appointed. There are likely to be two aspects of this.

First, there is likely to be a public transition process that may have some number of experts appointed to "study" the issue, and make recommendations. This is to give the concerned groups a focus for their concerns, and to demonstrate that no issue is being ignored. Clinton did this. Concerned groups of all kinds are completing their transition documents right now. A coalition of advocates of criminal justice reform is finishing their agenda catalogue and will post it here soon.

The second process is the real process which is likely to ignore the public process. The new White House personnel team will consult with political constituencies that are important to Obama, which will include appropriate key Members of Congress, and perhaps funders, and consider these appointments in a very large matrix that involves balancing paying back political debts, appeasing political pressure groups, finding a leadership team for the various agencies, and giving the best appearance of choosing "qualified" persons.

Selecting appointees is a higher priority than making any policy decisions. First, it is easier for the media to count up "unfilled" positions and blame the new Administration for being "slow" to fill vacancies. Second, because few policy changes are without political costs, most changes will require extensive preparation of the public. The possible exceptions might be medical marijuana and sterile syringe exchange which have large public support.

The three agencies and the agency chiefs are likely to be considered by three different teams: White House team, Justice department team, and a HHS team. For each of these teams, drug policy and drug agency heads are going to be lower profile, lower priority appointments.

For the Administration and the nation, the economic appointments and the national security appointments are going to be the top priority. Then there are a host of other issues and the agencies that deal with them that are much higher priority than drug policy.

Various groups in Washington and around the country will start trying to influence these decisions by assembling their own lists of suggested appointees and forwarding them to the press and to persons who know people close to or inside the new Administration.

I would not be looking for an announcement of a nominee to be the ONDCP director until the Spring. DEA can operate with an acting director, likely to be a career DEA manager, for a long time, as can NIDA. The decision of DEA Administrator won't come before a new Attorney General has time to orient himself or herself.

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Anonymous said...

Of course Barack could just suspend enforcement of all drug laws - until such time as Congress adopted measurable standards for drug restrictions. Strictly speaking this would be totally reasonable as there currently are zero measurable standards. In other words Barack could just depoliticize the drug war - and watch gleefully as the debates emerge pitting prohibitionists against big Pharma.
Most in the reform movement would just love someone to prohibit the use of taxpayer funding for conferences where only one point of view is even considered. It's got to be grating to know that the other side is using your money to fight your reforms with lies. A directive simply prohibiting anyone from the DEA commenting on any ballot measure or legislation being considered by any state would suffice.

Anonymous said...

It would be worth remembering that Rahm Emanual, Obama's new Chief of Staff, was the point person on Clinton's appointment of Barry McCaffrey as Drug Czar. He commented at the time they were falling over themselves to make sure they appointed someone "tough on drugs" -- as opposed to smart I suppose--but it might be a good idea to comb the country for a suitable person both tough and smart...

Anonymous said...

It's hard at this point to have any confidence in the Democrats to talk about serious drug policy reform.

What suggestions do you have about how we might exert influence over the future of the ONDCP? Is there any chance that this office could be something less than an arch-enemy to our movement?