WASHINGTON -- Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee assailed the Clinton administration's drug strategy yesterday.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., committee chairman, and Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., warned the administration's top drug officer that Congress could refuse to renew his office when its five-year term runs out next month unless President Clinton restores resources and strengthens its authority.
The unusual threat came as Lee P. Brown, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, outlined the administration's interim strategy against illegal narcotics.
The hostile reception indicates that the administration misjudged the level of interest that remains in countering illicit drugs, concluding that it needed to submit only a broad outline that was devoid of specifics.
The critical committee members emphasized that they found no fault with Mr. Brown, who came to the job with an extensive background as a leading police executive, including serving as commissioner of the police department in New York.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the committee's ranking Republican, was the harshest, contending that the strategy is "a political document so general as to be unhelpful and useful only to give the appearance of taking this issue as seriously as it should be."
He noted that the White House had "slashed the drug czar's office to the bone -- from 146 positions to 25," and that the administration had agreed to a $231 million cut in funding for drug treatment and education.
"You're hamstrung by an administration that doesn't give a damn," he said.
Mr. Brown responded that some $40 million of cuts in treatment had been restored, but he did not deal with Senator Hatch's contention that the administration had gone along with the cuts.
The strategy outlined by Mr. Brown shifts emphasis from casual drug users to hard-core abusers, requiring substantial increases in treatment programs, and from attempts to interdict drugs headed for the United States to supporting international programs in source and processing countries.