- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Drug Enforcement Administration, under a hiring freeze since August 2006, will be able to recruit, train and hire 200 new agents under a bill approved by Congress, Acting DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said.

“This legislation sends a strong and encouraging message to all of us at DEA as we continue our worldwide drug-law-enforcement mission,” Mrs. Leonhart said.

The $555 billion Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008, H.R. 2764, which will keep government agencies running through September 2008 and provide $70 billion to fund military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, was signed into law by President Bush on Dec. 26.

The bill includes $2.096 billion in funding for the DEA in fiscal 2008, which began Oct. 1, and authorizes funding above the agency’s budget request to support current operation levels and to enable DEA to lift its hiring freeze.

Under the bill, a proposal by the Bush administration to eliminate the DEA’s Mobile Enforcement Teams program (MET) and reduce further the number of DEA agents and support staff was determined to be “ill-advised.”

According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which overruled efforts by the administration to cut DEA funding and personnel, the bill will allow the agency through the MET program to continue assisting state and local law enforcement in the fight against meth and other dangerous drugs.

The committee also said the bill, as amended, includes $2 million in emergency funds to provide for nonpersonnel resources for a communications intercept program for Afghanistan to support foreign-deployed advisory support teams (FAST) and strengthen interagency counternarcotics operations in Afghanistan.

The DEA hiring freeze had caused rancor among many of the agency’s supervisory and rank-and-file agents, who said it threatened efforts to combat terrorism worldwide and rapidly increasing violent crime.

Many noted that the agency’s MET program was designed to help state and local police departments combat violent crime and drug trafficking in their communities. The tactical, quick-response teams are deployed at the request of a police chief, sheriff or district attorney to work in concert with local police to dislodge violent drug offenders from the community.

In coordination with state and local agencies, MET conducts surveillance, collects intelligence, cultivates investigations, obtains indictments and helps with arrests, before returning to home bases.

Nationally, violent crime rates are on the rise after a lull that began in 2001. In addition, after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the FBI shifted more than 500 of its agents from traditional criminal investigations — including drug cases — to counterterrorism and counterintelligence programs.

Several DEA agents also said the illicit profits from drug trafficking worldwide have become a key source of revenue for terrorist organizations, noting that half of the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations have drug ties.

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