Early on in George W. Bush’s presidency, the Republican White House launched a “faith-based initiative,” intended to dramatically increase the role of religious institutions in providing social services. Bush tapped John DiIulio, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist, to oversee the project.
DiIulio had high hopes for his role, which were soon dashed. “There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus,” he conceded in 2002. “What you’ve got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”
The Mayberry Machiavellis are now tackling the opioid crisis. Politico reported this morning:
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has taken control of the opioids agenda, quietly freezing out drug policy professionals and relying instead on political staff to address a lethal crisis claiming about 175 lives a day. The main response so far has been to call for a border wall and to promise a “just say no” campaign.
Trump is expected to propose massive cuts this month to the “drug czar” office, just as he attempted in last year’s budget before backing off. He hasn’t named a permanent director for the office, and the chief of staff was sacked in December. For months, the office’s top political appointee was a 24-year-old Trump campaign staffer with no relevant qualifications. Its senior leadership consists of a skeleton crew of three political appointees, down from nine a year ago.
The acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy hasn’t even been invited to Conway’s opioid cabinet meetings.
The Politico piece added that members of Congress “who have been leaders on opioid policy and who are accustomed to working with the drug czar office, haven’t seen outreach from Conway or her cabinet.”
In other words, the administration has taken a bifurcated approach. On the one hand, there’s the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has been marginalized, understaffed, and is facing significant budget cuts. On the other hand, there’s a group of political appointees, led by a Republican pollster, who have no relevant background, qualifications, or expertise.
What could possibly go wrong.
Remember, this has been a slow-moving fiasco. The first sign of trouble came over the summer., when Donald Trump made an official public declaration that the opioid crisis was “a national emergency.” As regular readers know, the president then waited 11 weeks before issuing an underwhelming White House directive on the issue.
As part of that formal declaration in October, the administration set in motion a 90-day period of mobilization, in which “virtually nothing of consequence has been done.”
When that period ended, Trump World gave itself another 90 days, though there’s little to suggest any meaningful progress is being made.