Drug Control:

Information on High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program

GGD-98-188: Published: Sep 3, 1998. Publicly Released: Oct 5, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, focusing on: (1) how ONDCP is implementing the HIDTA program; (2) how the expansion of the number of HIDTAs has affected the administration of the program; (3) what ONDCP is doing to measure how HIDTA programs are meeting the objectives established for the areas they serve; (4) how HIDTA funds are allocated; and (5) lessons ONDCP says it has learned from the HIDTA program to date and how these lessons are communicated among HIDTAs.

GAO noted that: (1) ONDCP has implemented the HIDTA program within a general framework that requires each HIDTA to: (a) assess drug threats within its geographic area; (b) prepare strategies and initiatives to address these threats; (c) develop a proposed budget to accomplish its initiatives; and (d) prepare an annual report that details its accomplishments; (2) ONDCP is to conduct program and financial reviews to oversee HIDTA operations and assess compliance with HIDTA policy and financial guidance; (3) the HIDTA program has grown substantially since its inception, from the original 5 HIDTAs in 1990 to 20 in 1998; (4) over the same period, the number of headquarters staff operating the program grew from one in 1991 to six currently; (5) according to ONDCP, one effect of the expansion was the creation in 1996 of HIDTA Assistance Center (HAC); (6) the number of HAC staff is currently 18; (7) in GAO's 1993 report on ONDCP operations, GAO recommended that Congress direct ONDCP to develop better performance measures with which to evaluate program results; (8) in reauthorizing ONDCP in 1994, Congress directed ONDCP to perform annual evaluations of the effectiveness of federal drug control; (9) ONDCP first published information on the performance measurement system it developed in March 1998; (10) this system was designed to assess the effectiveness of the National Drug Control Strategy, including the HIDTA program; (11) ONDCP and HIDTA officials told GAO that baseline data are lacking, making it difficult for ONDCP and the individual HIDTAs to measure program impact; (12) ONDCP contracted with two consulting firms to develop performance measures for the HIDTA program for which there would be baseline data; (13) total budget authority for the HIDTA program grew from $25 million for fiscal year (FY) 1990 to about $162 million for FY 1998; (14) over the years, Congress has imposed funding requirements on the program; (15) ONDCP has complied with these requirements for the 3 years GAO reviewed; (16) headquarters officials and the three HIDTA directors said that the value of collocation and the value of intelligence-sharing among federal, state, and local law enforcement officials are the key lessons learned from the HIDTA experience; (17) the objective of these systems is to prevent officers from unknowingly conducting undercover transactions against other officers; and (18) this objective is to be accomplished through the computerized sharing of information from HIDTA law enforcement officers concerning their undercover operations.

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