AS one of his early official acts, President Clinton last week reduced the staff of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy by 84 percent.
The unit disappeared so fast that the president never had a chance to hear about the X's and O's of drug policy from the unit's special assistant to the director, Richard (Digger) Phelps, the former University of Notre Dame basketball coach.
So, Mr. President, get out your chalkboard, because this is the coach's advice on White House drug policy:
* It helps if the president is a part of the team. This was recognized by the Democrats, who enacted the legislation empowering the office in the first place.
"Clinton may be trying to streamline it, but I think he needs to have it run from the White House," says Mr. Phelps, interviewed at the North Carolina State University Emerging Issues Forum.
The reason, Phelps says, is the power of the office. "When I used to say I was Digger Phelps from the White House drug control, people would say, `Wow, OK.'" If the Justice Department runs the operation, he says people are suspicious. And if one of the health services runs the operation, people want money. Mr. Clinton's decision on Feb. 10 to make the drug czar a Cabinet officer, Phelps says, is a slam dunk.
* Use a winning strategy. Phelps was on special assignment to Operation Weed and Seed, which worked on social and economic strategies to combat violent crime, drug abuse, and gang activity. He says he believes in the basic strategy of working with grass-roots organizations. If the president wants to look at communities where Weed and Seed was successful, Phelps says he should look at Benton Harbor, Mich., or New Orleans.
Apparently this strategy is not too different from Clinton's goals, which are to focus more attention on domestic issues rather than try to stop drugs outside United States borders, which was a significant aim of the White House unit.
* It helps to have a dominant center. "What Clinton needs is a Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf next to him on the battlefield every day," says the former coach. The general, he says, knows how to use the Pentagon to pull in the Air Force, Marines, Navy, and agencies.
Phelps suggests that Clinton make use of excess military bases to provide job-training locations. Jobs, he contends, will help to relieve some of the drug problems.