Friday, January 11, 2008

Congress cuts Eastern Kentucky anti-drug program

In addition to a two-thirds cut in the main federal grant program for anti-drug efforts by local police, reported most recently here, "a task force that has arrested more than 2,400 drug suspects in Eastern Kentucky the past five years and provided money for drug treatment and education" has seen its federal funding slashed by more than half, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Operation UNITE (Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education) has laid off 10 police officers and two other workers, "and could face a cut in a counseling program if it doesn't come up with more money," write Bill Estep and Cassondra Kirby, the paper's bureau reporters in Southern and Eastern Kentucky, respectively.

The program was started by 5th District U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers in 2003, when he and his fellow Republicans controlled the House and he was an appropriations subcommittee chairman. "Rogers ... got $8 million earmarked for UNITE each year of its first three years and then upped that to $9.1 million in 2006-07," the Herald-Leader reports. "However, UNITE got nothing for 2007 after Democrats took control of Congress and suspended earmarks while tinkering with the system. UNITE got through 2007 without major problems because it had some carryover money, but in the budget President Bush signed last month, UNITE received only about $4 million."

Because appropriators often engage in mutual back-scratching, it's often said that Congress has three parties -- Democrats, Republicans and Appropriators -- and Rogers spokesman Jim Pettit told the newspaper that the cuts were unrelated to the change in party control. "It's a different fiscal reality this year and part of it has to do with a budget deficit," he said, noting that UNITE is still one of the largest line items in the Justice Department budget. (Read more)

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