Pentagon Improves Counterdrug Oversight, Official Says

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2010 – The Defense Department is improving its global counterdrug efforts while also working to provide better business processes in the office that oversees those efforts, a Pentagon official said today.

William F. Weschler, deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics and global threats, spoke before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs during a hearing about oversight of contractors in the Defense and State departments’ counterdrug efforts. Weschler outlined the Defense Department’s work in counternarcotics, but also acknowledged management and oversight problems in the office.

In line with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ efforts to improve business processes, Weschler said, he has worked to streamline processes and hire federal workers to replace contractors. “We are pushing as rapidly as possible to build up the staff and convert people from contractors to permanent, government staff,” he said.

Weschler and David T. Johnson, State’s assistant secretary for counternarcotics, described using the quickest hiring tools at their disposal – employing contractors without bidding – to get around cumbersome government processes.

“I could not wait for the personnel office of the Department of Defense to give me the personnel I needed to get the work done quickly,” Weschler said. Rebidding a contract, he said, would take even longer than the federal hiring process.

“We’ve taken a great number of steps in the past year [to improve the processes], and we’re not finished,” he said.

Weschler described the drug trade as a national security issue for the United States that includes Islamic radical groups, as well as narcoterrorist groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that operate sophisticated networks that move not only weapons and drugs, but also people.

“A wealth of intelligence reporting has linked many [Islamic radical group] members to both drug trafficking and alien smuggling,” Weschler said. “The [Defense Department], through extensively coordinated projects with federal law enforcement agencies, has developed collaborative and effective methods for detecting and monitoring the movement of illegal drugs.”

Drug trafficking “is a present and growing danger” to U.S. security, he said.

The military became involved in counternarcotics after Congress recognized its unique interdiction capabilities and equipment in the 1980s, Weschler said. Today, he added, the department builds and maintains relationships with countries at risk of narcoterrorism.

“Ungoverned, undergoverned, misgoverned and contested areas offer fertile ground for such groups to exploit gaps” to meet their objectives, he said.

The department’s primary missions in counternarcotics are to help U.S. and foreign nonmilitary government agencies to stop drug trafficking through detecting, monitoring and sharing information, and helping to build capacity in ungoverned spaces, Weschler said.

The Defense Department’s counternarcotics office works with combatant commands to adapt specific counterdrug strategies for different areas, Weschler said. The largest areas of operation are with Mexico through U.S. Northern Command, Colombia through U.S. Southern Command, and Afghanistan through U.S. Central Command, he said.

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