Drug Control:

High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas' Efforts to Link Investigations to International Drug Traffickers

GAO-05-122: Published: Jan 28, 2005. Publicly Released: Jan 28, 2005.

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In fiscal year 2002, the Attorney General called upon law enforcement to target the "most wanted" international drug traffickers responsible for supplying illegal drugs to America. In September 2002, law enforcement, working through the multi-agency Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Program, developed a list of these drug traffickers, known as the Consolidated Priority Organization Target List (CPOT), to aid federal law enforcement agencies in targeting their drug investigations. Also, the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) collaborated with law enforcement to encourage existing High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) to conduct CPOT investigations. According to ONDCP, the 28 HIDTAs across the nation are located in centers of illegal drug production, manufacturing, importation, or distribution. ONDCP distributed discretionary funds to supplement some HIDTAs' existing budgets beginning in fiscal year 2002 to investigate CPOT organizations. Out of concern that a CPOT emphasis on international drug investigations would detract from the HIDTA program's regional emphasis, the Senate Committee on Appropriations directed GAO to examine whether investigations of CPOT organizations are consistent with the HIDTA program's mission and how ONDCP distributes its discretionary funds to HIDTAs for CPOT investigations.

The mission of the HIDTA program is to enhance and coordinate U.S. drug control efforts among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to eliminate or reduce drug trafficking and its harmful consequences in HIDTAs. CPOT investigations were not inconsistent with this mission because HIDTAs' targeting of local drug traffickers linked with international organizations on the CPOT list was one possible strategy for achieving the program's goal of eliminating or reducing significant sources of drug trafficking in their regions. GAO found that in fiscal years 2002 through 2004, ONDCP distributed discretionary funds to 17 of the 28 HIDTAs for CPOT investigations. Some HIDTA officials said they did not receive CPOT funding for several reasons including unclear guidance, insufficient application information to the HIDTAs for funding, and local priorities not linking with CPOT investigations. Reduced discretionary funding in fiscal year 2004 for CPOT investigations affected the number of HIDTAs that received this funding.

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