What is the difference between the DEA and ONDCP?

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Answered by: Brian, An Expert in the United States Government Category

Our federal government has a confusing array of departments and agencies across its three branches. The D.E.A. (Drug Enforcement Agency) and O.N.D.C.P. (Office of National Drug Control Policy) are perfect examples of the complex relationship amongst these different organizations. While they both fight in the "drug war," each plays a very different role. The basics: DEA - Founded in 1973, and part of the Justice branch - Agents are the frontline fighters in the drug war: tracking large scale distributors, carrying out raids, destroying production sources, etc. - Enforces federal laws related to narcotics - Current director is Michele Leonhart - Reported budget is approximately $2.4 billion ONDCP - Founded in 1988, and part of the Executive branch - Staff creates and orchestrates the various strategies for fighting the drug war - Oversees the interplay and effectiveness of all the national forces involved in the anti-drug effort - Current drug czar is Michael Botticelli - Reported budget is roughly $20 billion A closer look There are some key differences we can glean from this data. The agents of the DEA are on the ground, fighting the drug war much like a police or military unit. The staff of the ONDCP does not do anything of this sort. What they do is create and analyze a broad spectrum of reports to determine the effectiveness of current methods; they also oversee and implement solutions to the drug problem. Although these organizations share the same end goal and influence each other, they have differing views on how to tackle the issues. For example, the DEA and ONDCP are in disagreement over medical marijuana: the DEA claims there is "no medicinal value" whereas the ONDCP has stated there could be some medicinal value. There are also cases where their reports contradict each other; a situation like this occurs when the DEA reports a large seizure, yet the annual drug sales numbers established by the ONDCP vastly outweighs the DEA figures. Another key aspect lies in the fact they are contained within different branches of the government. A dominating issue currently is President Trump's budget cuts, and this means the two agencies get affected differently. The DOJ is facing some cuts that thus affect the DEA, but not necessarily the ONDCP. However, rumors abound that Trump could cut the ONDCP's budget by as much as 90 percent. As this agency oversees the entire drug war budget, it becomes entirely possible the agency would reduce the amount of its resources that go to the DEA. This is already happening with the O.N.D.C.P beginning to support prevention and treatment over enforcement. This is yet another issue that creates some conflict between the DEA and ONDCP, and represents some problems inherent in certain agencies. The DEA holds that the best strategy for combating drugs is arresting dealers and making the drugs costly for users. Critics contend this is not true and point out the DEA is only involved with enforcement; as a result, there is no incentive for them to embrace any other solution to the drug war. It is the responsibility of the ONDCP to determine the effectiveness that strategy is having. Yet this exploration into other options still means potential budget cuts for the DEA.

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