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The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program: An Overview

Mission of the HIDTA Program

The mission of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Program is to enhance and coordinate America's drug-control efforts among local, state and Federal law enforcement agencies in order to eliminate or reduce drug trafficking and its harmful consequences in critical regions of the United States. The mission includes coordination efforts to reduce the production, manufacturing, distribution, transportation and chronic use of illegal drugs, as well as the attendant money laundering of drug proceeds.

The HIDTA Program and the National Drug Control Strategy

The HIDTA Program is an important component of the President's National Drug Control Strategy, predominantly addressing Goal Two—to "Increase the safety of America's citizens by substantially reducing drug-related crime and violence"; Objective Two—to "Improve the ability of the HIDTAs to counter drug trafficking." The HIDTA Program advances the President's National Drug Control Strategy by providing a coordination umbrella for local, state, and Federal agencies to combine drug control efforts through an outcome-focused, strategy-driven approach, which is developed collectively by regional law enforcement agencies.

From the Beginning

Realizing that drug trafficking in certain areas of the United States affects other areas of the country, Congress established the HIDTA Program to operate under the direction of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 (P. L.100-690, November 18, 1988) and the ONDCP Reauthorization Act of 1998. The HIDTA Program provides Federal assistance to better coordinate and enhance counterdrug law enforcement efforts of local, state, and Federal law enforcement agencies in areas where major drug production, manufacturing, importation, or distribution flourish. The HIDTA Program designates geographic areas to which Federal resources are allocated to link local, state, and Federal drug enforcement efforts and to optimize the investigative return on limited fiscal and personnel resources. Properly targeted, HIDTAs offer greater efficiency in countering illegal drug trade in local areas. HIDTA Programs are based on a logical, comprehensive methodology for prioritizing needs and working with other initiatives.

In 1990, Federal funds were appropriated to five areas of the United States that were considered the most critical high intensity drug trafficking area "gateways" for drugs entering the nation. The five regions included specific designated counties in Los Angeles, Houston, New York/New Jersey, South Florida and the Southwest Border. As an innovative and unique program, ONDCP established a policy and strategy for the HIDTA Program, consistent with congressional intent. The HIDTA concept of coordinating drug law enforcement efforts in critical areas of the United States has remained and thrived. To further build on the efforts to combat drug-related crime and counter drug trafficking, the Administration and members of Congress have continued to support the program, which currently consists of 26 designated HIDTA regions. The Program has achieved a great deal of success in breaking down old barriers between the local, state, and Federal law enforcement agencies. Coordinating efforts and sharing information has extended beyond a single initiative or task force, to between initiatives and task forces in a single HIDTA, a region, and among HIDTAs nationally.

Resources provided to the HIDTA Program have grown from $25 million in Fiscal Year 1990 to $192 million in FY 2000. The FY 2000 HIDTA Program coordinated the efforts of a total of 949 local, 172 state and 35 Federal law enforcement agencies and 86 other organizations participating in 462 HIDTA-funded initiatives containing numerous multi-jurisdictional task forces, in 26 HIDTA regions plus five Southwest Border HIDTA partnerships, 292 counties in 40 states plus Washington DC, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Designation of a HIDTA

HIDTAs are designated by the Director of ONDCP, in consultation with the Attorney General, Secretary of Treasury, heads of drug-control agencies, and respective governors. In designating HIDTAs, ONDCP considers the following statutory criteria:

The extent that:

  • the area is the center of drug production, manufacturing, importation, or distribution.
  • state and local law enforcement agencies have committed resources to respond to the drug trafficking problem, thereby indicating a determination to respond aggressively.
  • drug activities in the area are having a harmful impact on other areas of the country.
  • a significant increase in Federal resources is necessary to respond adequately to drug-related activities in the area.

HIDTA regions are comprised of specific designated counties, based on the drug threat facing that area. The following areas, with specific designated counties in the noted states, have been designated as HIDTAs:

1990: Houston, Los Angeles, New York/New Jersey, South Florida, and the Southwest Border (California, Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas and South Texas);
1994: Washington/Baltimore and Puerto Rico/U.S. Virgin Islands;
1995: Atlanta, Chicago, and Philadelphia/Camden;
1996: Rocky Mountain (Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming), Gulf Coast (Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi), Lake County (Indiana), Midwest (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota), and Northwest (Washington);
1997: Southeast Michigan and Northern California;
1998: Appalachia (Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia), Central Florida, Milwaukee and North Texas; and
1999: Central Valley (California), Hawaii, New England (Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont), Ohio, and Oregon

A HIDTA Region

HIDTAs are joint efforts of regional local, state, and Federal law enforcement agencies whose leaders work together to assess regional drug threats, design strategies to combat the threats, and develop initiatives to implement the strategies. HIDTAs:

  • Provide a coordination umbrella for local, state, and Federal drug law enforcement efforts;
  • Foster a strategy-driven, systems approach to integrate and synchronize efforts; and
  • Focus on outcomes.

HIDTA strategies are developed by an equal partnership of regional law enforcement agencies. The balancing of power between the law enforcement leaders ensures the integration and synchronization of efforts to reduce drug trafficking, eliminate unnecessary duplication of effort, maximize resources, and improve intelligence and information sharing both within and between regions.

Regional HIDTA strategies include building collocated, multi-agency drug task forces and initiatives. Collocation and multi-jurisdictional task forces are fundamental program standards that promote achievement of strong levels of coordination and partnership building. These standards provide valuable opportunities for agencies to combine their wide range of knowledge, skills, jurisdictional powers and resources to target illicit drug organizations and drug-related crime, as well as to share information and resources, develop lasting teamwork, and even conduct cross training. The strategies are developed based on the identified regional drug trafficking threat. Every year, each HIDTA reviews their strategy and initiatives to improve effectiveness and to respond to changes in the threat.

The HIDTA Program focuses on outcomes and performance based funding. HIDTA Program policy includes HIDTA Developmental Standards that outline requirements of every HIDTA region, from basic to optimum in the areas of Intelligence and Information Sharing, Teamwork, Accountability, and Strategy Building. Additionally, the HIDTA Program is measured by the National Drug Control Strategy's Performance Measures of Effectiveness, per congressional mandate. By focusing and measuring outcomes, the HIDTA Program increases America's impact on the illicit drug trafficking industry and helps make our communities safer and free of drugs.

The HIDTA Program creates a system that empowers agencies to synchronize their efforts. In addition to providing additional equipment and technology, the Program enables drug control agencies to pioneer new ways of collaboration. The agencies communicate more rapidly and effectively and actively share intelligence resources, such as, manpower and equipment. As partnerships mature, personnel from different agencies hand off cases to each other and conduct cross-case analysis. By working together, agencies develop a common vision and collective problem solving techniques.

In the HIDTA system, agencies have a mechanism to quickly adapt to fluctuating drug trafficking patterns. This ability becomes increasingly important as drug traffickers use more and more complicated schemes and methods to bring illicit drugs into the United States.

HIDTA Program Policy and Unity of Effort

ONDCP establishes program policy and has oversight responsibility to the HIDTA Program. The ONDCP Director oversees development and implementation of the Program and approves funding for regional HIDTA strategies and initiatives. At the national-level, the HIDTA Coordination Committee makes recommendations on policy, program, and funding to the ONDCP Director. The Coordination Committee is made up of representatives from ONDCP and the Department of Justice, Treasury, and Health and Human Services. Additionally, the National HIDTA Program establishes various sub-committees with representation from state and local law enforcement agencies around the nation.

At the regional level, each HIDTA has an Executive Committee (EXCOM), which is the governing body for the individual HIDTA. The EXCOM consists of an equal number of representatives from local/state and Federal law enforcement agencies. The EXCOM is responsible for the development and implementation of the HIDTA Strategy and the attendant initiatives and budgets. The EXCOM also has administrative oversight responsibility for the fiscal operations of the HIDTA, which includes ensuring that HIDTA funds and resources are utilized in compliance with all program guidance and policies. The EXCOM hires a HIDTA Director to assist with the day-to-day administration of the HIDTA, implement appropriate oversight controls per the EXCOM, and liaison with ONDCP. Operational control of initiatives is the sole purview of the participating law enforcement agencies. Moreover, HIDTA initiatives and/or individual task forces abide by the rules and regulations of their respective agencies. For example, all chain-of-command, report writing, and security issues of HIDTA task forces and initiatives must comply with the standards of the respective participating agencies. HIDTA brings the agencies together, provides the concept, structure and additional resources for the participating agencies' manpower and expertise to accomplish enhanced and meaningful outcomes.

HIDTA Investigative Support Centers

The HIDTA Program establishes Investigative Support Centers (ISCs) in designated areas specifically to create a communication infrastructure that can facilitate information-sharing between Federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies. Information gleaned from the collection, evaluation, analysis, and synthesis of intelligence must be shared in order to reduce production, transportation, distribution and use of drugs. Cooperation in sharing and deconflicting strategic and operational intelligence is critical for combating the international and domestic drug problem.

HIDTA ISCs are therefore the centerpieces of the Program. They facilitate information sharing, intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination, technical and strategic support to HIDTA initiatives and participating agencies. A state or local and a Federal law enforcement agency jointly manage ISCs. The multi-agency personnel at the ISCs provide event and subject deconfliction services for HIDTA task forces and other law enforcement agencies in and outside the HIDTA region for increased officer safety. They also provide intelligence that increases the effectiveness and efficiency of task forces by analyzing information and identifying drug trafficking organizations and their vulnerabilities. These services help law enforcement agencies target drug organizations at several levels: local, regional and national. Drug control data is collected from Federal agencies, including the DEA, FBI, U. S. Customs, and a multitude of state and local law enforcement agencies. In most cases an agency representative is on-site and controls the information based on agency rules and regulations. In cases where sensitive information cannot be disclosed, the representative provides contact information so that the agents and/or officers can make direct contact with one another. HIDTA ISCs provide secure sites and information systems for participating law enforcement agencies to store and appropriately share information and intelligence.

Each HIDTA produces an annual drug threat assessment, which is created with information received from regional drug control agencies. The threat assessments depict the actual drug threat in the region in order to assist individual departments and agencies in developing strategies and learn about intelligence gaps. They are also useful to policy makers in determining the drug threat priorities and resource allocation. HIDTA drug threat assessments are integrated and coordinated with the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), who has the responsibility of producing the national drug threat assessment.

The General Counterdrug Intelligence Plan (GCIP), published in 2000, embodies the HIDTA philosophy by recognizing the critical role that intelligence plays and promoting local, state, and Federal law enforcement information sharing. GCIP's goal is to establish a drug intelligence framework that supports operators in the field, improves local, state, and Federal relationships, and responds to policymaker needs as they formulate counterdrug policy, taskings, and resource decisions. Specific proposals in the GCIP reinforce and promote the HIDTA program concept, goals, and requirements.

Challenges for the Future

After several decades of wrestling with the drug problem, drug-related violence and crime continue to be among the most profound problems confronting the Nation. Although drug-related crime and drug use have declined, illicit drugs continue to take the lives of Americans and cost billions to our society. The Nation working together has made substantial progress in confronting illegal drug trafficking and drug abuse; however serious challenges remain.

The HIDTA Program has begun a review process that includes on-site visits to HIDTAs by ONDCP staff, as well as members from the Departments of Justice and Treasury. The on-site reviews will help strengthen management at the individual HIDTAs, and policy at the National level. This will provide greater communication with the National office. Additionally, the individual HIDTA sites are obtaining the ability to share "best practices" around the Nation.

The HIDTA regions are achieving a closer working relationship with the El Paso Intelligence Center for the accumulation of methamphetamine intelligence. Additionally, the National Drug Intelligence Center is being utilized for the streamlining and production of regional and National threat assessments. HIDTA is closely coordinating efforts with complimentary programs such as OCDETF and HIFCAs and with National Centers (EPIC, FinCEN, NDIC, and CNC) to eliminate duplication of effort and maximize drug control efforts regionally and nationally.

To achieve its mission, the HIDTA Program must continue to enhance performance; work to develop a system that enhances synchronization of drug control efforts, not only in task forces but also among task forces; and continue to improve its performance measures. In addition, to help protect America from increasingly sophisticated threats; the abilities of joint law enforcement efforts must grow with technology. Although the challenges are great, the HIDTA Program is one of America's most powerful tools for addressing the drug problem.

The strategies and initiatives that have been developed as a result of the HIDTA Program's coordination infrastructure are a significant component in America's domestic drug fighting arsenal. The resulting accomplishments of intelligence initiatives along with successful interdiction operations, multi-agency investigations and prosecutions are a vivid example of the benefits of leveraging resources and maximizing intelligence-sharing and cooperative drug enforcement operations. Although the historical trends of the drug problem will not be reversed overnight, the mission is clear and achievable: America has joined forces to reduce drug trafficking.

For more information, please visit the official ONDCP Web site at whitehousedrugpolicy.gov

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