Office of National Drug Control Policy:

Agencies View the Budget Process as Useful for Identifying Priorities, but Challenges Exist

GAO-11-261R: Published: May 2, 2011. Publicly Released: May 2, 2011.

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Illicit drug use endangers public health and safety and depletes financial resources. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), each day in this country, an estimated 8,000 Americans illegally consume a drug for the first time and the risks posed by their drug use--like that of the estimated 20 million individuals that already use illicit drugs--will radiate to their families and the communities in which they live. Efforts to combat drug abuse and its consequences also represent a considerable financial investment. ONDCP, which is responsible for overseeing and coordinating the implementation of the national drug policy, reported that, for fiscal year 2010, about $22 billion was allocated for drug control programs and other related drug control activities across 49 federal agencies, departments, components, or programs. ONDCP was established by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 to enhance national drug control planning and assist Congress in overseeing that effort. In this role, ONDCP provides advice and governmentwide oversight of drug programs and coordinates the development of the National Drug Control Strategy (Strategy). By statute, the Director of ONDCP is to annually (1) develop a National Drug Control Strategy which sets forth a comprehensive plan, for the year, to reduce illicit drug use and its consequences in the United States by limiting the availability of, and reducing the demand for, illegal drugs; (2) develop a consolidated National Drug Control Program budget proposal designed to implement the Strategy; and (3) coordinate and oversee the implementation by the National Drug Control Program agencies of the policies, goals, objectives, and priorities established for the National Drug Control Program and the fulfillment of the responsibilities of such agencies under the Strategy. Agencies submit to ONDCP the portion of their budget requests dedicated to drug control, which they prepare as part of their overall budget submission for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and these requests are to be included in the President's budget request. In February 2011, ONDCP released the Fiscal Year 2012 Funding Highlights for the Drug Control Budget, which reflected a restructuring of the prior year's Drug Control Budget. This restructuring resulted in a total of 39 departments and their components and independent agencies with drug control responsibilities and a total budget request of about $26 billion. (Enclosure I shows the 39 federal components, agencies, and programs in the fiscal year 2012 Drug Control Budget). The Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 2006 mandates that we annually conduct an audit relating to the programs and operations of ONDCP. Thus, this year, we examined ONDCP's efforts to develop and monitor the Drug Control Budget, particularly in light of potential efforts to consider reauthorization of ONDCP beyond fiscal year 2010. Specifically, we (1) examined ONDCP's process for developing and monitoring the Drug Control Budget and (2) obtained selected drug control agencies' views on the benefits and challenges of developing and implementing the Drug Control Budget. To address these objectives, we analyzed applicable laws; available ONDCP documents such as circulars and guidance; and reports on ONDCP, the National Drug Control Strategies for 2005 to 2010, and the Drug Control Budget for fiscal years 2007 to 2012. To better understand how ONDCP's budget development process operates, we analyzed portions of ONDCP's funding guidance to the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS) for fiscal years 2005 through 2010.

National Drug Control Program agencies are required to follow a detailed process in developing their annual budget submissions for inclusion in the Drug Control Budget. ONDCP outlines its process in circulars that it sends to agencies which provide detailed reporting instructions on how to properly prepare their drug budget submissions. By statute, the Director of ONDCP is required to provide, by July 1 of each year, budget recommendations to the heads of departments and agencies with responsibilities under the National Drug Control Program. According to ONDCP, these budget recommendations are intended to specifically delineate what priorities each agency is expected to fund in the coming budget submission. By statute, the head of each department, agency, or program of the federal government with responsibilities under the Strategy is required to transmit to the Director of ONDCP a copy of their proposed drug control budget request at the same time as the budget request is submitted to their superiors (and before submission to OMB). ONDCP refers to this request as the summer budget submission. The ONDCP Director is required to review each summer budget submission and transmit a written summary of its review to each agency stating whether the budget submission is adequate to implement the agency's responsibilities towards the objectives of the Strategy. With regard to the benefits and challenges of the budget process, officials from at least four of the six agencies we contacted reported that ONDCP's process for developing the Drug Control Budget is somewhat or very effective in (1) identifying Drug Control Budget priorities, (2) ensuring sufficiency of resources to implement the Strategy, or (3) providing a record of national drug control expenditures. The most pervasive challenges agencies we contacted identified were related to the timing of ONDCP's annual funding guidance and written reviews of agencies' budget submissions. Some agencies noted that these documents were too late to impact their initial budget formulation efforts, but ONDCP plans to issue funding guidance and written reviews earlier in future fiscal years that should address these concerns. In commenting on a draft of this report, ONDCP noted that the report provides a thoughtful review of ONDCP's process for developing programs and policies in support of the National Drug Control Strategy and highlights the various interactions it has with other federal drug control agencies. ONDCP stated that the feedback provided by the report will help ONDCP build stronger and more communicative relationships with these agencies and enable ONDCP to improve its budgetary process.

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