Asa Hutchinson: drug war lacking in leadership

Wednesday - 6/10/2009, 1:20pm EDT

Asa Hutchinson

A former DEA head and DHS undersecretary weighs in on the current state of leadership in fighting the drug trade.

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

The Obama administration's new strategy to win the War on Drugs has been launched with a leadership vacuum. FederalNewsRadio asked Asa Hutchinson, who at different points led past DEA and border security efforts, about the lack of permanent leadership in three key federal agencies.

You can't fight an effective battle against the cartels without having all the key leadership in place and you've got to give the new administration some time, but here it is June, major initiatives have been announced, and so it is very, very critical that the Senate confirm presidentially appointed leadership of the DEA, ATF and Customs and Border Protection.

So what, and where, is the problem?

DEA, ATF, all a part of the Justice Department, I think is lagging in that leadership. (On the) Homeland Security side, you've got the director of ICE in place, but Customs and Border Protection, which is really responsible for all the inspections along the border, that individual has not been named yet by the President.

DEA is essential because they have the lead in the drug enforcement arena. I've talked to some of the DEA agents just in recent days and they're looking for that new Senate-confirmed, presidentially appointed leadership as they're negotiating with Mexico... You have to have the imprematur of the President in order to have the impact that you need in that key role.

Filling the positions, Hutchinson tells the Federal Drive, falls squarely on the administration.

I think there's an ample number of people that want to take them, they're wonderful positions, you make a difference in our country, but they do have to go through extraordinary background checks and sometimes you have false starts. You identify someone who gets halfway through the vetting process and they pull out or some problem develops so you have to have some sympathy for the difficulty of the process that the leadership has to go through, but that's true in any administration, so you've got to drive hard, you've got to push hard. And Congress is waiting to confirm those - the President needs to name them.

Once leadership is in place, Hutchinson says the focus should shift to coordinating the agencies.

Right now there's a dispute between Homeland Security agents and Justice Department agents in terms of who has the key enforcement responsibilities along the border. ICE agents out of Homeland Security wants expanded authority: the DEA, and Justice Department, has been reluctant to give that to them. This dispute needs to be resolved in order to have the level of coordination to be successful.

Asa Hutchinson has been a U.S. Congressman from Arkansas, Director of the Drug Enforcement Administration and was the first-ever Under Secretary for Border & Transportation Security at the Department of Homeland Security.

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