Why Kerlikowske?

So as far as I can tell, there hasn’t been a huge buzz about President Obama nominating ONDCP director Gil Kerlikowske for the post of Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

The best article about Kerlikowske’s planned departure is from Eric Sterling

Kerlikowske has been an unimaginative drug czar, often invisible. Having come from Seattle, Washington where he had been police chief, he was shrouded with hope that he would have enlightened views about harm reduction and marijuana use and enforcement. Those hopes were soon dashed. His office has accomplished little and his public statements have been uninspiring. He demonstrated no ability to influence the federal bureaucracy, and left ONDCP irrelevant in national drug policy efforts. ONDCP’s role in forums of the United Nations, such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, has been to stifle adoption of harm reduction, a singularly backward approach. His departure is good news for drug policy but bad news for the Department of Homeland Security and people who care about Customs enforcement.

And this brings us to the really unanswered question. Why Kerlikowske?

Thomas Winkowski is the current deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Production (CBP) and acting commissioner. As far as I can tell, they’ve had acting commissioners since 2011 when Obama nominee Alan Bersin left. I’m not aware of any major political push to fill that position permanently.

I can’t imagine anyone saying, “Gee, we really need someone to step in and take charge of our borders. Let’s get that guy who goes around the country talking about treatment.”

I can’t envision a scenario where moving Kerlikowske to CBP solves a CBP problem for the administration.

That leaves the possibility that Kerlikowske’s “promotion” is about clearing him out of ONDCP in order for the administration to do something different with drug policy (although I have no clue what that would be).

Whatever the plan is, we probably won’t know right away. It takes forever to get nominees confirmed. In the meantime, once Gil leaves, ONDCP Deputy Director Michael Botticelli will probably run the ONDCP until a new director is confirmed.

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