A WORTHY effort but lacking in important elements. That's the way concerned city officials and their representatives assess the federal government's emerging antidrug strategy.
The plan was devised by William Bennett, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. It is to be publicly released by President Bush on Sept. 5. Although not publicly available, copies of the Bennett draft of the ``National Drug Control Strategy'' are now being passed around Washington.
Three issues that particularly bother city officials about the plan include:
The antidrug program will not give money directly to cities.
It does not provide as much money to combat drugs as the officials consider necessary.
It obtains funds largely by taking them away from other programs. City officials fear the result will be less money for other critical urban needs, like housing and health care for the poor.
The Bush-Bennett program ``will not include two elements of particular importance to the mayors,'' says J. Thomas Cochran, executive director of the United States Conference of Mayors in an analysis of the program that has just been sent to local officials.
Mr. Cochran identifies the two as: ``the provision of antidrug funds directly to the cities, and a significant increase in the amount of funds provided.''
In recent years Congress has authorized $2.8 billion in antidrug funds, says Mayor James Moran of Alexandria, Va. But most of that money was sopped up by state bureaucracies, he charges: ``Less than $500 million has been awarded'' to city antidrug programs.
``[Only] a small fraction has ever gotten down to localities because it's been tied up in state programs,'' the mayor adds. ``Most of it appears to have funded state bureaucracies. ... There are very few cities that have gotten more than a few thousand dollars of that money.''
At the same time Mr. Moran carefully notes that the drawing up of a national strategy has merit of itself: ``I give [Bush] credit for focusing on what is a critical problem to all cities, and for wanting to do the right thing. I think that he may be overresponding to the national emotion to get tough ... [which] has been shown to be relatively ineffective unless it's blended with other types of actions.''
Moran is chairman of the Human Development Policy Steering Committee of the National League of Cities. The committee will meet Aug. 25 and 26 to develop policy recommendations for the league to follow on drug issues.
Whether the federal government should give its money to cities or states is a decades-old argument in Washington. ``It is one of the critical city-state conflicts that have existed for years and years,'' says Steven Mednick, president pro tem of the Board of Aldermen of New Haven, Conn., and chairman of the board's finance committee.
Historically Democrats have favored providing funds directly to cities. But Republicans have noted that most city administrations are Democratic. They have pressed to provide money to states, many of whose governors are Republican, for eventual distribution to city agencies.
Now elected officials at all government levels say it is time to put aside such partisan considerations. They note the alarming rise in drug use and trafficking, and the growing public concern that makes the drug problem the No. 1 concern of Americans, according to the latest Gallup poll results.
City officials say they must have flexibility to attack their local drug problems, and insist that this requires more federal funds to come directly to them, and in more than token amounts.
``One of the major challenges I face is the pressures of my constituents to hire more police,'' says Alderman Mednick. New Haven police also require better weapons, he adds: More money for police and arms ``is absolutely critical.''
At the same time hospitals, drug treatment, and drug rehabilitation centers ``need more money, too'' in order to be effective, Mednick says.
Mednick's New Haven is one of many American cities struggling with crime, drugs, inner-city poverty, and modest resources with which to combat all of these problems.
Mednick says no firm assessment can be made of the Bennett-Bush antidrug program without knowing how much money the federal government will provide. ``Until we know how many dollars are going to go to local law enforcement officials and local rehabilitation centers, it's unclear to me what the drug program will be doing,'' he says.
In his written analysis of the presidential program Mr. Cochran says the Conference of Mayors ``strongly opposes any further cuts in key urban programs to underwrite federal antidrug efforts.''
The League of Cities recently studied 153 cities with relatively successful antidrug programs, Moran says, and found four common themes: ``They emphasized strengthening families and neighborhoods. ... They operated in a cooperative way with all neighboring'' cities and towns. ``They pushed aside normal bureaucratic inertia. ... There was a balance between enforcement, treatment, and prevention.''
``The federal effort has to have these components, too,'' Moran adds.
It also should award more money to local antidrug programs that have been successful ``to expand upon what works. I don't see that within the [Bennett-Bush] program,'' he says.