Keeping Score

The Fragilities of the Federal Drug Budget

by Patrick Murphy

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This issue paper explores the history of the federal drug-control budget as well as the methodology used to produce the numbers in it. It argues that what is commonly referred to as the "federal drug control budget" is not a budget in the textbook sense: that is, it is limited in its capacity to either ensure accountability or establish policy priorities. At best the federal drug budget provides a descriptive level of effort. And even as a historical description, the numbers may misrepresent the total level of expenditures as well as their distribution across programs to control both supply and demand. This paper begins with a brief review of the federal drug-control expenditures and the history of the drug budget. It then examines the differing methods used to calculate agency drug-control budget estimates and the consequences of the differences. Such "scorekeeping" varies from agency to agency and produces a distinctly ad hoc collection of estimated drug-control expenditures. Finally, the paper argues that the federal drug budget better serves as an advocacy tool than as a mechanism to drive policy changes.

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This research was sponsored by RAND's Drug Policy Research Center and funded by The Ford Foundation.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation issue paper series. The issue paper was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1993 to 2003 that contained early data analysis, an informed perspective on a topic, or a discussion of research directions, not necessarily based on published research. The issue paper was meant to be a vehicle for quick dissemination intended to stimulate discussion in a policy community.

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