This 24-year-old was appointed to a top position in Trump’s drug policy office
He assumed the role after a bunch of turnover.
The remarkable rise of Taylor Weyeneth is a window into the political nature of Trump administration appointments. The 24-year-old, whose only professional experience was working on Trump’s presidential campaign, was appointed to a leading role in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. The instant ascent from a low-level staffer to deputy chief of staff was largely the result of massive staff turnover and vacancies at the ONDCP, reports The Washington Post, providing insight into “the troubled state of the drug policy office.”
A year into the Trump administration, the Office of National Drug Control Policy has no permanent director. That’s despite the president’s pledge to mobilize federal government resources to address the ongoing opioid crisis. At least seven of the administration’s drug policy appointees have resigned, according to office spokesman William Eason.
Among those personnel losses have been key figures such as the general counsel and acting chief of staff. Some of those weighty responsibilities were assumed by the young Weyeneth, according to a memo obtained by the Post.
The January 3 memo from acting director Richard Baum, a civil servant, gives some sense of the crisis in leadership at the agency in charge of drug policy in the U.S.:
“ONDCP leadership recognizes that we have lost a few talented staff members and that the organization would benefit from an infusion of new expert staff. The functions of the Chief of Staff will be picked up by me and the Deputy Chief of Staff.”
Weyeneth will be returned to his previous position after questions were raised about his qualifications.
After The Washington Post contacted the Trump administration about Weyeneth’s qualifications, an official said the young staffer would return to the position he originally held in the agency.
If that’s true, Weyeneth will once again become a White House liaison for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. That job typically involves working with non-government advocacy groups. The administration official, who would speak only anonymously, claimed Weyeneth had been primarily doing “administrative work,” rather than being in charge of policy decisions. The official also admitted that Weyeneth had “assumed additional duties and an additional title following staff openings.”
The Office of National Drug Control Policy hired Weyeneth in March, according to the White House official. Weyeneth had been galvanized by the heroin overdose death of a relative several years ago, according to both his mother and the official.
Last year, the administration proposed budget cuts that would have eliminated the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The ONDCP director, often called the “drug czar,” is supposed to be the president’s top adviser on issues related to illegal drugs and drug addiction. In addition to coordinating drug enforcement at other federal agencies, the ONDCP is tasked with producing the National Drug Control Strategy. That’s the federal government’s annual plan for drug policy. The ONDCP also, crucially, administers significant federal grants to local law enforcement and drug-free community programs.
There was significant pushback when the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) proposed cuts that would have gotten rid of 95 percent of the ONDCP’s funding for the fiscal year beginning last October. The White House dumped that idea after objections from senators from both parties.
Trump’s chosen nominee to lead the ONDCP, Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), withdrew himself from consideration. Journalists had found Marino had sponsored legislation favoring Big Pharma opioid manufacturers. The legislation also conveniently curbed the ability of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to investigate Big Pharma abuses.
All of the turmoil at the ONDCP obstructs efforts to rally the government at a time when the U.S. is going through the worst opioid crisis in its history, according to current and former agency officials. “It sends a terrible message,” said former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske, who ran the ONDCP during the Obama administration.
Under the previous three administrations, the agency attracted prominent experts.
Under the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, the ONDCP had major law enforcement, public health, and military experts, according to the Post. Some recent appointees to deputy chief of staff—to which Weyeneth was appointed—had years of relevant experience, working in government or public policy before being appointed.
Regina LaBelle, who previously served as deputy chief of staff, senior policy adviser and chief of staff at ONDCP during the Obama administration, said the office must run well to confront drug-related problems such as the opioid crisis. “It requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, and that kind of approach can only be coordinated through the Office of National Drug Control Policy,” she said.