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Murtha's Little Piece Of Pork

threatened to screw overUS News story
In the beginning, the Johnstown center did have some friends in the White House. With the blessing of President George Herbert Walker Bush, then drug czar William Bennett proposed the creation of the NDIC in 1990. Its mission: to collect and coordinate intelligence from often-feuding law enforcement agencies in order to provide a strategic look at the war on drugs. But the Drug Enforcement Administration, worried that its pre-eminent role in the drug war was slipping away, openly fought the idea. So did many on Capitol Hill, arguing that the new center would duplicate the efforts of existing intelligence centers, notably the El Paso Intelligence Center, operated by the DEA. With little support in the law enforcement community, the NDIC looked all but dead. Enter Congressman John Murtha. The Pennsylvania Democrat, who chaired the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Defense, tucked the enabling legislation for the center into a Pentagon authorization bill, with the caveat that it would be placed in his district.

The center was troubled from the start. Murtha's new drug agency was funded by the Pentagon, but the Department of Justice was authorized to run it--an arrangement bound to cause problems. "All of us wanted the NDIC," says John Carnevale, a former official with the Office of National Drug Control Policy, as the drug czar's office is known. "But none of us wanted it in Johnstown. We viewed it as a jobs program that Mr. Murtha wanted [for his district]."

Murtha bristles at implications that the Johnstown center is a boondoggle.... But "obviously," he says, "I wanted it in my district. I make no apologies for that."

Headquartered in a renovated department store downtown, the center has brought nearly 400 federal jobs to Johnstown, a struggling former steel-mill town. Law enforcement agencies, ordered to send employees to the new center, had trouble finding skilled analysts or executives who would agree to live in Johnstown. Even the bosses didn't want to go. The first director, former FBI official Doug Ball, traveled back and forth from his home near Washington. His deputy, former DEA agent Jim Milford, did the same and made no bones about it. "I've never come to terms," Milford says, "with the justification for the NDIC."

In 1993, when the NDIC officially opened, the congressional General Accounting Office issued a damning report citing duplication among 19 drug intelligence centers that already existed. And many involved in the process said the idea of gathering information from other law enforcement agencies for strategic assessments on drug trafficking just wasn't workable. In some cases, federal law prevented agencies from sharing sensitive intelligence; in others, rival agencies simply refused to give up proprietary information. "The bottom line," Milford said, "was that we had to actually search for a mission."
didMichael Crowley