"We are interested in ads that work," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., explaining his panel's decision to pare the budget back to $100 million for the next fiscal year, down from $150 million.
"We feel like we have an obligation as appropriators to protect the taxpayers. That is a big expenditure of money and we think it can be very healthy in the war against drugs but [the drug office] has got to do better."
The committee also included language in the bill that would require 80% of the White House drug office media campaign spending to be dedicated to advertising. The drug office currently earmarks some of the money for its Web site and outreach programs. Most of the drug office's ads come from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, oversees the account and handles research.
John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, pushed for major changes in the campaign last year after a study that suggested some of the ads weren't effective. The White House cut the number of separate strategies it used to reach kids, increased the target age from middle school to high school and devoted more of the effort to fighting marijuana.
Officials of the drug control office and the Partnership said they are concerned about the budget cut but believe the campaign works. They expressed confidence the funds would be restored when a Senate/House conference committee considers funding for the program. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
They pointed to a similar battle last year and earlier this year, when a House committee voted to trim spending only to see its recommendation reversed by the full House Appropriations Committee. The House earlier this year voted to give the program $150 million, but required 77% of the money to be spent on media buys.
"We are disappointed with the number. It would be a setback against teen drug use," said Thomas A. Riley, director-public affairs for the drug office. "But we have confidence that a number of senators understand how important this is and the improvements we have made and they will come through at the end of the day."
He also suggested the requirement that 80% of the money be used for advertising went too far.