Sacrificing Democracy to Save Money


September 03, 1993|By MYLES H. MALMAN

Philadelphia. -- The proposed merger of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI is said to turn on the following question: ''Would a single unit fight drugs more effectively?''

My question takes a slightly different turn: Would a single law-enforcement agency best serve the American people? I think not; the result would be a tragedy to our free society.

Vice President Gore's National Performance Review, the government task force that seeks to tinker and putter with our freedoms, has generated a sweeping proposal that would consolidate all federal law-enforcement activities into the Department of Justice under control of the attorney general.

This proposal would create a so-called ''Directorate of Central Law Enforcement,'' effectively merging the Drug Enforcement Administration with the FBI and enforcement functions of the Secret Service, Customs Service, IRS, Postal Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms into one agency.

Is an all-powerful, centralized federal law-enforcement entity really good government? A Directorate of Central Law Enforcement conjures up vivid Orwellian imagery. The Panama experience of Operation Just Cause and the military's taking on additional law-enforcement missions, such as those in Bolivia and Peru, suggest that a new ''national'' police army would grow even larger. Big Brother would not only be watching, but he would also be watching us from every corner of the Pentagon, the CIA and the computers and television monitors of the ''Directorate of Central Law Enforcement.''

Our Constitution was devised to protect us from an imbalance of power in one branch of government. Checks and balances were carefully established in order to protect our citizenry from tyranny, abuse and mismanagement. Do we want an all-controlling Directorate of Central Law Enforcement, headed by an attorney general reporting to the president? We have fought so hard against an unfettered executive. Do we want to just throw that concept away in the name of bureaucratic fiscal tidiness?

Our current attorney general, Janet Reno, has certainly won the respect of the American people. Her integrity and reputation are without question. But what does the future hold? What of other attorneys general? What if the reins of power are passed to someone less scrupulous? The era of J. Edgar Hoover and Watergate certainly illustrates what can happen when too much law-enforcement power is placed in one person's hands.

Proponents of the merger cite cost savings as a benefit of this consolidation, particularly the merger of the DEA and the FBI. Democracy should never be sacrificed in the name of cost savings.

And what of the notion that the FBI, a multi-mission agency, can provide more resources and focus to the U.S. government's drug-control effort? The FBI already has significant commitments within its wide investigative jurisdiction. Where, then, will the drug program find its priority if it is just another division competing for priority and corresponding resources?

Drug enforcement is a proactive, specialized mission requiring investigators who know how to target and attack the drug kingpins of the world. Drug organizations, in order to stay in business, are mobile and fast-moving. Drug deals take place with lightning quickness.

The drug investigators must be as fast moving and mobile as the criminals they pursue. If the drug-enforcement mission is transferred to the FBI, layers of bureaucracy will immobilize the investigators rather than the drug criminals. Drug enforcement must have the agility to move swiftly and without undue layers of management restraint. The DEA, a single-mission agency, should provide leadership to the federal drug-enforcement effort.

The DEA is a small agency, only 3,500 agents, but these investigators have perfected their investigative skills. The agency currently has every major world drug trafficking kingpin under either indictment or investigation.

Law enforcement today needs a diversity of leadership to ensure checks and balances of its own. Maintaining separate agencies with different missions is a critical step in ensuring the proper balance of resources. There must be not only an exchange of ideas, but also healthy competition. In a world of ever-sophisticated criminal activity, we need creative thinkers concentrating on specialized missions in order to ensure a safe future for the children of the nation.

An all-powerful, monolithic Directorate of Central Law Enforcement, difficult to manage and impossible to control, is not good government and would not serve the American people well. The proposed solution is overly simplistic, and its consequences are, at least to this American, terrifying.

Myles H. Malman was one of the lead prosecutors in the drug-trafficking case against Panama's Manuel Antonio Noriega. He wrote this article for the Miami Herald.

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