Scrapping of drug czar's office urged Justice Dept. unit could do job better, Barr says

December 16, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Outgoing Attorney General William P. Barr reflecting on his tenure under President Bush, is calling for eliminating the federal drug czar's office and for insisting on "full cooperation" of Latin American countries in the drug war.

"I don't think it works to superimpose someone who doesn't have substantial operating resources over those agencies that do," he said yesterday in an interview. "You can't have a staff function serving as commander in chief" in fighting drugs.

Drug czar Bob Martinez coordinates the activities of other agencies but does not have a staff of his own directly engaged in combating drugs. Mr. Barr urged closing that office and giving the responsibility instead to one of the federal agencies directly involved in fighting drugs, a role he said the Department of Justice is "best situated" to fill.

Anti-drug efforts now involve the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the Department of Justice, the Customs Service in the Department of the Treasury, and the Pentagon, the CIA and the Department of Health and Human Services.

During the campaign, Bill Clinton called for strengthening the drug czar, formally the office of national drug control policy, by giving it Cabinet status. Major support for the office has come from Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But transition sources say that Mr. Clinton is not locked in to his support, and that much will depend on what his teams now auditing federal departments find.

The attorney general's opposition rekindles opposition to the office by Republicans. Although the new post was eventually approved, former President Reagan once vetoed a crime bill largely because it created a drug czar.

Without any staff directly involved in fighting drugs, Mr. Barr said, the drug czar's office is left to "either of two vices."

"You either have them dabbling in operations -- putting on a flak jacket and making raids -- or [taking] an academic, think-tank approach," he said.

Mr. Barr also called for an end to the "proliferation of [federal] law enforcement outside the Department of Justice."

For example, he said, the Department of the Treasury is currently involved in training law enforcement personnel in Glynco, Ga., a function that he said is best left to the Department of Justice. Most U.S. law enforcement personnel are Department of Justice employees, including those working for the FBI, DEA, Bureau of Prisons and Border Patrol and other INS offices.

In calling for more cooperation from Latin American countries to curtail drugs, Mr. Barr noted that Mexico has been increasingly cooperative. "I would like to see a lot more done in South America," he said, citing Peru as an example,

"This country cannot long tolerate a situation where it is paying such a high price for the consumption of cocaine," he said.

Mr. Barr, who plans to remain in Washington practicing law, said that, if he had served a second term as attorney general, among his highest priorities would be substantially expanding the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

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