Meth funding defies Bush

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers on Wednesday were steering tens of millions of dollars toward the fight against methamphetamine, defying President Bush but pleasing San Joaquin Valley law enforcement officers.

The House supported the meth-related programs as part of a fiscal 2008 Justice Department funding bill that appeared to be moving toward approval late Wednesday night. This frustrates the White House, which wanted to spend the money in different ways.

It also illustrates, concretely, how Bush's clout has shrunk as lawmakers from both parties dismiss his priorities with impunity.

"Unfortunately for the president, his popularity is extremely low, and it's difficult for him to rally support," said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

The Justice Department funding proposal includes:

$20.5 million for Drug Enforcement Administration mobile enforcement teams, which have been focusing on meth. The traveling DEA teams assist state and local agencies, and their past deployments have included several-month stints in Modesto, eastern Kern County and, most recently, Stockton.

$725 million for Community Oriented Policing Services grants, which help local agencies hire, equip and train officers. The total includes $85 million specifically for meth-oriented programs, which have benefitted the Turlock and Merced police departments. More generally, it also includes $100 million to hire new officers through grants that previously assisted agencies including the Visalia Police Department and San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department.

$50 million for drug courts and prison-based treatment programs. More than 150 drug courts operate throughout California, offering defendants special treatment options. Located in most of the state's counties, the drug courts may receive both state and federal funding.

The Bush administration sought to eliminate almost all of that funding in its 2008 budget proposal issued in February. In part, the administration was trying to cut costs. The administration also prefers to distribute funds in different ways; for instance, by consolidating line items into big block grants.

And, in part, the administration contends some of the programs simply don't work as well as advertised.

"The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services has not always done a good job of ensuring grantees' appropriate use of funds," the White House Office of Management and Budget noted, citing "many cases of grantee misspending."

The White House budget office further cautioned that the COPS program "cannot demonstrate results" in actually cutting crime.

Similarly, budget officials noted that while some studies found federally funded drug courts "effective," longer-term evaluations are still lacking.

The politically popular High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area programs, which are funded through a separate bill, likewise are viewed skeptically by the Bush administration.

"The program has grown well beyond its original focus," the White House concluded, and "its impact cannot be determined."

Even when Bush was at his political prime, though, past administration efforts to end the COPS program or redirect drug funding fell well short of White House goals. On the drug issue, most members of Congress are less responsive to the White House than to local agencies seeking help.

"When you get the resources, you can have tremendous success," said Bill Ruzzamenti, director of the Fresno-based Central Valley High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which helps coordinate anti-meth efforts in a nine-county area from Sacramento to Bakersfield. "The problem is, you have to get the resources."