24-year-old helps lead Trump drug policy office

Weyeneth’s brief biography offers few clues that he would so quickly assume a leading role in the drug policy office

Washington PostThe ascent of recent college graduate and campaign volunteer Taylor Weyeneth (right) from a low-level post to the drug policy office is due in large part to staff turnover.


Washington: In May 2016, Taylor Weyeneth was an undergraduate at St John’s University in New York, a legal studies student and fraternity member who organised a golf tournament and other events to raise money for veterans and their families.

Less than a year later, at 23, Weyeneth, was a political appointee and rising star at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the White House office responsible for coordinating the federal government’s multibillion dollar anti-drug initiatives and supporting President Donald Trump’s efforts to curb the opioid epidemic. Weyeneth would soon become deputy chief of staff.

Weyeneth’s brief biography offers few clues that he would so quickly assume a leading role in the drug policy office, a job recently occupied by a lawyer and a veteran government official. His only professional experience after college and before becoming an appointee was working on Trump’s presidential campaign.

Weyeneth’s ascent from a low-level post to deputy chief of staff is due in large part to staff turnover and vacancies. The story of his appointment and remarkable rise provides insight into the Trump administration’s political appointments and the troubled state of the drug policy office.

Trump has pledged to marshal federal government talent and resources to address the opioid crisis, but nearly a year after his inauguration, the drug policy office, known as ONDCP, lacks a permanent director. At least seven of his administration’s appointees have departed, office spokesperson William Eason said. Among them was the general counsel and acting chief of staff, some of whose duties were assumed by Weyeneth, according to a memo obtained by The Washington Post.

“ONDCP leadership recognises that we have lost a few talented staff members and that the organisation would benefit from an infusion of new expert staff,” said the January 3 memo from acting director Richard Baum, a civil servant. “The functions of the Chief of Staff will be picked up by me and the Deputy Chief of Staff.”

Weyeneth, 24, did not respond to requests for an interview. After being contacted by The Post about Weyeneth’s qualifications, and about inconsistencies on his resumes, an administration official said Weyeneth will return to the position he initially held in the agency, as a White House liaison for ONDCP, a job that

typically involves working with outside interest groups.

The official, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, said that Weyeneth has been primarily performing administrative work, rather than making policy decisions, and that he had “assumed additional duties and an additional title following staff openings”.

The office hired Weyeneth in March “after seeing his passion and commitment on the issue of opioids and drug addiction,” the official said.

Opioid crisis

The Office of National Drug Control Policy was started by Congress in 1988 with passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. Part of the White House executive office, the ONDCP director, often referred to as the “drug czar,” is supposed to be the president’s main adviser on issues relating to illicit drugs, including manufacturing, smuggling and addiction.

In addition to its responsibilities for coordinating drug programmes at other federal agencies, ONDCP is supposed to produce the National Drug Control Strategy, an annual blueprint for drug policy. The office also administers grants to law enforcement and drug-free community programmes.

Last year the Office of Management and Budget proposed budget cuts that would have effectively eliminated the ONDCP for the fiscal year that began in October. The White House abandoned the plan after objections from a bipartisan group of senators.

In October, Trump’s nominee to lead the office, representative Tom Marino, the Republican from Pennsylvania, withdrew from consideration after a joint investigation by The Post and 60 Minutes found he had sponsored legislation favouring opioid makers and curbing the ability of the Drug Enforcement Administration to investigate abuses.

Current and former ONDCP officials who have served under Democratic and Republican presidents said in interviews that the turmoil, including the elevation of Weyeneth, hinders efforts to rally the government at a time when the nation is going through the worst opioid crisis in its history.

“It sends a terrible message,” said Gil Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief who ran the office during the Obama administration and is a former commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. “It’s a message that we’re not taking this drug issue seriously.”

— Washington Post

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