Counter Drug Program and Training Centers Well Worth the "Budget Dust"
For the last 22 years, the National Guard’s Counter Drug Program has been a vital partnership with federal, state local law enforcement and private groups interested in safeguarding their communities from drug and drug violence. They have joined together to train and coordinate in drug enforcement activities.
That could all soon be in jeopardy if the Defense Department gets its way.
The Counter Drug program provides linguists, criminal analysts, communications, engineering, transportation, cannabis suppression, and ground and aerial reconnaissance to all 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia. In 2012, the National Guard responded to more than 60,000 requests for counterdrug assistance from local law enforcement agencies. More than 260 National Guard analysts are assigned to federal and state narcotics task forces across the nation. National Guard members also work with communities and schools to help with prevention, reaching hundreds of students annually.
But the Defense Department now wants to focus on global narcotics efforts and training international partners, and that could mean a slow death to the program. Over the last few years, the president’s budget has decreased funding nearly 50 percent and the National Guard Counter Drug Program receives less than 20 percent of the DoD Counter Drug Central Transfer Account. This international focus robs the National Guard of a dynamic state/federal mission, where by law it is the only military organization that is allowed to provide assistance to local law enforcement.
The National Guard has always performed its mission of assisting civilian authorities and protecting American lives and property at home with diligence and experience. As with natural or manmade disasters, the Guard’s partnerships with law enforcement are long-term and make for strong alliances that help achieve success in protecting Americans from the violence and heartache of drugs within their communities.
I recently visited the Northeast Counterdrug Training Center (NCTC) at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., which serves 18 states, and found a top-notch educational organization that has provided training to tens of thousands of federal, state and local law enforcement officers over the years. NCTC brings in some of the nation’s top experts in drug enforcement procedures providing invaluable educational experience. Originally accredited in 2006 by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), NCTC continues to be the only military-operated accredited training academy for civilian law enforcement in the country. In 2012, NCTC achieved “Accreditation with Excellence” status, the highest level of recognition CALEA bestows upon its elite list of nationally accredited agencies.
Top law enforcement officials from the New York and Virginia State Police testified to the importance of the training center to their drug enforcement activities and their continuing reliance on the center saying it was “the best drug enforcement training they had ever had.” With a 97 percent student approval rating, the law enforcement community sees the Guard’s training programs as a vital part of the nation’s joint efforts to combat drug use and proliferation.
Did you know that the Pennsylvania NCTC provides some of the best polygraph training in world? Many people would not, but it does. NCTC trains FBI, DEA, ICE and other federal departments, but the majority of their students are from local law enforcement agencies. The free training allows thousands of officers to be certified and network where they might not be able to due to lack of local funding.
Choking off the sources of federal funding could mean an end to such excellent training.
Despite the reduction in funds, the National Guard Training Centers across the country remain in high demand. The NGTCs have seen an increase of enrollment, signaling that this training is a vital need of our country’s law enforcement community. Although helping other nations is important, helping our own communities is even more so.
The President’s Budget for fiscal 2014 contains $4.9 million for the five regional National Guard Training Centers located in Pennsylvania, Florida, Mississippi, Wisconsin and Washington, a reduction of $3.7 million from the amount appropriated by Congress in fiscal 2013. These figures represent “budget dust” for the Defense Department, and shelving smaller programs in an effort to meet sequestration requirements will radically affect counterdrug activities every community has benefited from. Less money means fewer students, less training and a degradation of enforcement that provide safety to American towns and cities. If anything, programs with proven track records that are cost effective and provide substantial results should see increases in funding.
The National Guard Association membership annually submits resolutions that ask to keep the National Guard Counter Drug Program strong. Congress has supported this program every year, well beyond the funding levels included in the President’s Budget. Let’s hope that despite their disagreements, they can continue to give the National Guard and law enforcement personnel what they need to keep America safe.
Grace Washbourne is a legislative analyst for NGAUS.