The Johnstown based National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) began with the blessing of President George HW Bush. Its mission: to collect and coordinate intelligence from often-feuding law enforcement agencies in order to provide a strategic look at the war on drugs (it was still called that at the time). But the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), worried that its pre-eminent role in the drug war was slipping away, fought the idea “tooth and nail”. So did many on Capitol Hill, arguing that the new center would duplicate the efforts of existing intelligence centers, notably the El Paso Intelligence Center, operated by the DEA. With little support in the law enforcement community, the NDIC looked all but dead. Enter the King of Pork, John Murtha. Murtha hid the enabling legislation for the NDIC into a Pentagon authorization bill, with the caveat that it would be placed in his district (surprise, surprise).
NDIC has been wasting your tax dollars for sixteen years and Senator Tom Coburn wants it stopped:
From the beginning, the NDIC’s mission “just wasn’t workable” because, “In some cases, federal law prevented agencies from sharing sensitive intelligence; in others, rival agencies simply refused to give up proprietary information. Stonewalled, the NDIC began operating, effectively, as an extended staff for other drug agencies, working on projects too cumbersome, peripheral, or time-consuming for their own teams of intelligence analysts. The center was costing about $30 million a year, but, as a former official of the drug czar’s office put it bluntly, ‘we saw nothing’ from it.”
Coburn doesn’t stop there, he has asked Attorney General Holder why all of these millions are being spent on a John Murtha Boondoggle:
Holder pressed for answers on Murtha project
By Susan Crabtree
Posted: 05/26/09 07:09 PM [ET]
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is pressing for new answers about funding for a counter-narcotics center that Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) has supported for more than two decades.
Coburn sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder late last week reiterating charges that the center in Johnstown, Pa., previously known as the National Defense Intelligence Center (NDIC) is a duplicative boondoggle and asking for the explanation behind a recently proposed name change.
“I am concerned about both the costs and the motivation of this proposed name change,” Coburn wrote.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice (DoJ) said only that Holder’s office is reviewing the letter and will respond “appropriately.”
Murtha spokesman Matthew Mazonkey said his boss had nothing to do with the center’s name change, proposed in Obama’s budget, and noted that NDIC officials aren’t even sure it will happen.
Republicans and the Bush administration spent the last four years trying to eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars in Murtha-directed funding to the center. President Bush and Republicans in Congress labeled it a “Clinton-era pork-barrel boondoggle” that exists only as a jobs program in Murtha’s district, where it is located.
The GOP critics are suspicious that the name change, which was mentioned briefly in a recently released DoJ Budget and Performance Summary, is a way to obscure the funding from additional public scrutiny.
Two years ago, an effort to strip money for the center from an intelligence bill sparked a nasty floor fight between Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Murtha, who subsequently apologized publicly for threatening Rogers’s earmarks in retaliation.
Despite the very public fight, Murtha and Democrats on Capitol Hill have managed to keep funds flowing to the center. President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2010 would provide it $44 million, place it under the DoJ’s umbrella and change its name to the DoJ’s Center for Strategic Intelligence (CSI).
To Coburn, the additional funding and proposed name change stand in stark contrast to findings in an oversight report titled “Justice Denied: Waste & Mismanagement at the Department of Justice,” which he commissioned last year.
The report found that throughout the last 15 years, NDIC’s purpose has frequently changed and duplicated the operations of 19 other government agencies and that “its data was not very useful to the other drug control agencies.”
Coburn’s letter also quotes two former officials at the center criticizing its work and mission.
“A former center director, Mike Horn, confessed, ‘I recognized that a lot of reports were God-awful, poorly written, poorly researched, and, in some cases, wrong,’ ” Coburn wrote. “Jim Milford, a former NDIC deputy, admitted, ‘I’ve never come to terms with the justification for the NDIC,’ and “ ‘the bottom line is that we had to actually search for a mission.’ ”
Coburn wants to know how much it will cost to change the name of the center, which he argued would require new signs and identification cards for the center’s 239 employees, new letterhead and the “rebranding” of all its documents and publications.
“While each of these costs may be minor on their own, together they quickly add up, yet do little to advance the mission of NDIC or DoJ or the interests of taxpayers,” Coburn wrote. He asked for a response by June 30.
Mazonkey argued that Coburn is relying on old and inaccurate information. For instance, Horn and Milford haven’t worked at the NDIC for years, and one of them was fired for “inappropriate conduct,” he said.
“He and his staff are more than welcome to visit the center and receive a full briefing on the important work that they do,” he said.
Mazonkey also pointed to recent public recognition the NDIC has received. In October 2008, he said, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence praised the NDIC as a “pioneer in the realm of document and media exploration, developing unique, robust capabilities, such as the digital evidence laboratory and a real-time analytical intelligence database.” The same month, the center received a DoJ award for “outstanding administrative and managerial excellence.”
Coburn spokesman John Hart said his office has done its homework when it comes to the NDIC and has numerous sources backing up its argument. A report on the senator’s website details the criticism, he said.
“The NDIC was a boondoggle at its inception 16 years ago and it continues to be a monument to congressional incompetence,” Hart said.
Murtha’s earmarks have received increased scrutiny in recent weeks and months. The FBI has been investigating a now-defunct lobbying firm and at least two defense contractors with close ties to Murtha. The powerful Pennsylvania appropriator has directed millions of dollars in earmarks to the contractors, as well as the lobbying firm’s clients.