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June 2010


How to Become a Bounty Hunter

Some DEA Agents Criticial Because Agency Leader Leonhart Yet to Be Confirmed; Question Obama Admin. Commitment to DEA

Michele Leonhart/dea photo

Michele Leonhart/dea photo

By Allan Lengel

WASHINGTON –– The delay in the confirmation of Michele Leonhart as the permanent administrator of DEA is drawing some sharp criticism from some of agency’s agents as well as a former DEA official at time the agency is playing a key role in the battle against the violent Mexican drug cartels and gangs along the border.

Critics say the delay raises questions about the Obama administration’s commitment to the agency,  and is causing Leonhart, who is the acting administrator, to put off filling a number of key vacancies.

“It shows your president is not committed to drug law enforcement,” says William R. Coonce, a retired special agent in charge of the DEA, who still closely follows the agency’s developments. “It’s demoralizing to the agents.”

Leonhart was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2004 as the second in command of the agency.  In November 2007,  at the tail end of the Bush administration, she was named  acting head of the agency. On Jan. 25,   more than two years later, President Obama nominated her to officially head the agency.

Nearly six months later, no confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee has been set. Leonhart must ultimately be confirmed by the full Senate.

William Coonce

William Coonce

Coonce said he found it hard to believe — particularly since Leonhart was already confirmed by the full Senate in 2004 when she became the agency’s number two person — that the Judiciary Committee couldn’t have squeezed in a short hearing for someone as uncontroversial as Leonhart.

A veteran DEA agent, who asked not to be identified, echoed similar sentiments as Coonce, saying:

“We know Obama doesn’t care about this. DEA is the bastard child of law enforcement.

“I think there’s a frustration,” he added. “Although she’s running it the best she can, there’s is no head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.  Michele is not making any moves, it’s holding things back.”

He added that Leonhart was reluctant to make some major decisions or moves within the agency out of fear it might pose problems for her during the confirmation process.

An aide to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which conduct the confirmation hearings, said Leonhart had filled out some paperwork for the committee that was being reviewed.  The aide noted that the upcoming hearing for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan seemed to be taking precedent at this point over other confirmation hearings.

The White House press office said it would look into the matter, but never got back for comment.

But not all agents are concerned, and some say the the tortoise pace of getting Leonhart confirmed is typical of the way things are done in the ever-political environment in Washington.

One agent said he didn’t believe overall the agents were demoralized and said: “Everyone thinks  their agency is the most important. I think the DEA should be happy someone has been nominated. I would say the good news is, they’ve chosen her. She’s a known entity. We’ve got one of our own who’s going to take charge.”

Another agent said he did not think the absence of a confirmation was demoralizing, and added that agents, as always, were carrying out the mission, doing the best they could under the circumstances.

The agent said the confirmation delay may be causing Leonhart to put off filling some key vacancies. But he added that, in all fairness, Leonhart is noted within the agency for not being very quick about making key decisions.

But he added of the confirmation: “I don’t know why it’s not a higher priority.”

DEA agents aren’t the only ones complaining about the administration.

ATF agents have been complaining that the administration has failed to even nominate a permanent head, and says it’s not likely to happen until after the mid-term elections.

President Obama named Kenneth E. Melson, the former Justice Department attorney who headed up the Director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, as acting director of ATF last year. Melson assumed the post on April 12, 2009.

Some ATF agents have echoed similar complaint as some DEA agents about their agency being the step child of law enforcement.

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