Union Tribune

January 24, 2003 

Homeland security nominee criticized for his work as DEA leader

By JOE CANTLUPE 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON Every time DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson
took one of the agency's Lear jets to attend town meetings across
the country, he rankled some senior officials who said
Hutchinson should have taken commercial flights.

Hutchinson's management style has become the focus of a
whispering campaign involving some current and former Drug
Enforcement Administration officials as the Senate considers his
nomination for the top border security post in the Homeland
Security Department.

Despite the criticism, Hutchinson, a former Republican
congressman from Arkansas, won approval yesterday from the
Senate Commerce Committee and is expected to be confirmed
by the Republican-controlled Senate as the under secretary for
border security and transportation under Homeland Security
Department Secretary Tom Ridge.

During his 17 months as head of the DEA, Hutchinson, 51, a
former federal prosecutor, shook up the agency's management
structure and barnstormed across the country, holding more
than two-dozen town meetings that focused on
methamphetamine and the drug Ecstasy.

"I think criticism comes with the territory when you are trying
to be more aggressive in building a coalition to support the
anti-drug effort," Hutchinson said yesterday.

As the Senate Commerce Committee prepared to weigh
President Bush's nomination of Hutchinson, several senior DEA
officials privately criticized his tenure as head of the anti-drug
agency. They declined to be identified, saying it would
jeopardize their careers.

The officials characterized Hutchinson as a jet-setting and
headline-grabbing administrator whose management practices
politicized the office and sidelined qualified minorities seeking
key posts.

Their complaints were echoed by representatives of various
Hispanic law enforcement organizations who criticized
Hutchinson for running a "good ol' boy" system.

Among other things, they said Hutchinson undermined the work
of a DEA committee organized in 1996 to advise management
about Hispanic employees' concerns.

The committee's charter expired in November 2001 and
Hutchinson only agreed to reorganize the group a year later,
they said.

Critics said Hutchinson acted because of the controversy
generated by former Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott's
racially divisive remarks.

Hutchinson denied the allegations, saying he certified the
Hispanic advisory committee immediately after he learned that
its charter had expired.

Some Hispanic critics pointed out that Hutchinson's relationship
with minorities was especially sensitive because the former
three-term congressman was a graduate of Bob Jones University
in South Carolina. The fundamentalist institution, and its ban on
interracial dating among students, has been controversial for
years.

In recent interviews, some senior DEA officials also took issue
with Hutchinson's penchant for using the DEA's Lear jets to
attend meetings across the country.

Hutchinson said government policies allowed him to fly in the
Lear jets for "security reasons or (if) there was an urgency
getting somewhere." Hutchinson said he sometimes flew
commercially.