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 "Drug Czar" McCaffrey Proposes "Border Czar;" Reno Appoints DOJ Border Chief


September-October 1998

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), has proposed a single federal official serve as "border czar," to coordinate all anti-drug operations along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. The "border czar" would manage the counter-drug efforts on the border of at least 22 federal agencies in a half-dozen government departments (Jeff Barker, "Southwest might get its own drug czar," Washington Times, June 15, 1998, p. A6; David LaGesse, "Texas-Based Border Czar Is Proposed," Dallas Morning News, August 1, 1998; Kyle Johnson, "`Drug Czar's' Plan to Shore Up Leaky Border Meets With Skepticism," Christian Science Monitor, August 27, 1998, p. 3; Susana Hayward and Nathalie Trepanier, "Border idea is touted here," San Antonio Express News, August 31, 1998; Christopher Wren, "U.S. Drug Chief Seeks Overhaul of Strategy at Border," New York Times, September 20, 1998).

A draft of the proposal says a "border czar" is needed to make communications systems used by different agencies compatible; to collect and share information among anti-drug agencies; and to increase technology for screening vehicles at the border for drugs. The new federal official would review anti-drug policy on the border, coordinate anti-drug efforts with state and local authorities, and serve as a liaison with Mexican officials. McCaffrey said the proposal could curb drug trafficking along the border by 25% in five years and 80% in ten years.

The "border czar" would be a presidential appointee, confirmed by the Senate, having a term of four years, to supervise a small agency called the Southwest Border Counter-Drug Coordinating Authority, probably located in El Paso. U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-El Paso, TX) said he supports the idea, and that it promises "better control of the border without having to resort to militarization." Reyes is a former Border Patrol Chief in El Paso.

However, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) criticized the idea. "Why does the drug czar need to hire someone else to do his job? How many sub-czars are needed to win the war against drugs?" asked Smith. "The Administration should confront drug smugglers with more Border Patrol agents, not an election-year public relations campaign."

McCaffrey's proposal reportedly does not indicate to whom the "border czar" would report. Some departments and agencies fear that the proposal could infringe on their authority and budgets.


On September 16, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno chose John J. Kelly, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, as her Special Representative for the Southwest Border Region, replacing Alan Bersin, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California. In addition to his new post, Kelly will keep his job as a U.S. attonrey. The post was created in 1995 by Reno to coordinate the efforts of the FBI, DEA, Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Border Patrol, all of which are agencies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Office of National Drug Control Policy - 750 17th St., NW, 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20006, Tel: (202) 395-6618, Web: <>.

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes - 514 CHOB, Washington, DC 20515, Tel: (202) 225-4831, Fax: (202) 225-2016.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith - 2231 RHOB, Washington, DC 20515, Tel: (202) 225-4236, Fax: (202) 225-8628.

John J. Kelly, Special Representative for the Southwest Border Region - P.O. Box 607, Albuquerque, NM 87103, Tel: (505) 224-1459, Fax: (505) 346-6883.