Op-ed: Critic of Operation UNITE

A viewer shares his criticism of Operation UNITE.


I received this Op-ed letter from Seth Combs of Knott County.  Seth says he is a law student now living in Michigan. He graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with degrees in Criminal Justice and Safety, Security and Emergency Management.   




Op-ed: Critic of Operation UNITE


The very existence of Operation UNITE brings about several questions and concerns.  There are 29 counties in the 5th District.  That amounts to 673,670 people.  For purposes of this e-mail, I will leave out KY State spending since the scope of Brad's article was limited to Hal Rogers and thus federal money.  According to FedSpending.org - Unlawful Narcotics Investigations (the umbrella corporation to which Operation UNITE falls under) have received:



FY2003: $7,948,000 = 

#54 of 2,910 ranked recipient of total $26.9bil ($4.68bil for Dist 5)


FY2004: $7,915,819 = 

#60 of 3,211 ranked recipient of total $26.1bil ($4.62bil for Dist 5)


FY2005: $7,893,146 = 

#6 of 567 ranked recipient of total $26.3bil ($4.99bil for Dist 5)


FY2006: $9,134,671 = 

#50 of 2,083 ranked recipient of total $28.1bil ($5.16bil for Dist 5)


TOTAL = $32,900,636 out of $107.4bil ($19.45bil for Dist 5) *Note: This does NOT include state funding.


When one does the arithmetic, it would seem that the percent given from federal government to UNITE of our total district allotment is infantile.  But, what is striking to me is the rankings.  I do realize that UNITE has received no more federal funding thus far and it will remain to be seen if they do.  However, I think it can be conceded that almost $33 million is a lot of money.  It follows, then, that we as KY and U.S. citizens want to ensure money spent by our government is worth it - meaning: are the results justifying this expenditure?  Could it be used to achieve the same goal but in a better and different way?  I would posit no and yes, respectively.


Unfortunately, UNITE's website has a fact sheet that is deeply lacking in detail.    I will break down each section of it, first.


Law Enforcement

The plethora of statistics their fact sheet provides does not really cite where these figures come from.  Because of that, there is no discernible way to attribute these accomplishments solely to UNITE.  I am unable to find any data regarding drug crimes detailed on the county/city level.  This set of data is pertinent in order to make the conclusion that UNITE's efforts alone enabled the reduction of drug-related crimes and the amount of drugs seized.  To conclude this is to erode the effectiveness of every other agency whose scope includes drug-related enforcement.  As far as local/regional investigations go, I do not think that engaging in this "educates" or "makes aware" that drug culture should not be tolerated at all as the UNITE program's mission states.  Arrests, imprisonment, and property seizure certainly brings attention of the problem to the table, but it does not address the underlying problem.  It seems to me that UNITE is primarily a quasi-law enforcement arm under the thin guise of a non-profit entity and only a "treatment/help" arm secondarily.




The "Voucher Program", while a good idea in theory, claims to have given $5.8mil in vouchers.  Yet, without any reference to what each voucher is worth or how it is calculated, this figure is quite arbitrary.  I also cannot conceive any way that UNITE is solely or largely responsible for results produced from the Drug Court's statistics.  Perhaps their investigations led to the offenders being under Drug Court jurisdiction, but this only speculation as the fact sheet offers nothing to verify that claim.  I do commend, however, their use of government money for treatment facilities, though it is regrettable there is only 2 for the over half million people Cong. Dist. 5 represents which house only 52 and 75 individuals, respectively, at once.


Coalition/Youth & Education Activities

The breadth and vagueness of this section is particularly troubling.  There are many "programs", "workshops", and so forth.  The majority of these have not been adequately explained as to what they are and the specifics of exactly what our government money has funded.  UNITE's website does provide some detailed explanations of what a handful of their various youth programs are, but still suffers from vagueness of how monies were distributed and to what extent.  However, I am particularly pleased with the AmeriCorps and counseling initiatives.


It is a gross deviation of responsible fiscal conduct to throw out numbers and statistics that, at first glance, seem indicative of progress.  But, further examination will reveal (at least according to UNITE) no substantiation to these numbers.  My point is that if UNITE and its supporters contend they deserve this federal (and state) money, they need to be much more accountable in terms of disclosing details of their expenditures.  I think they should have already adopted a more proactive approach to this problem.  There should be no conflict of interest in doing so given that they are non-profit.  I have trouble accepting the notion that a substantial amount of federal money is being used without essentially any oversight readily available to the constituents.  This is wholly irresponsible by UNITE or any other entity.  Perhaps the government is to blame for that, but I see no reason why these entities won't voluntarily provide such data.  Failure to do so indicates, at least at some level, there is a possibility of misuse of the money.


From everything I can publicly gather about UNITE's activities, it seems that UNITE's law enforcement "wing" is given more weight than its treatment and community initiative branch.  In conclusion, I think that the above stated points out a large flaw with UNITE in that it is not a wise use of federal funds.  It is also worth noting that UNITE is by no means new. It has been around for a better part of a decade. So I find it fair to say that they have had adequate time and it is clear they're main emphasis is enforcement.  I further feel their means of enforcement is of much greater trouble and that this is perpetuated by the thin veil a non-profit entity provides.  UNITE seems to take particular pride in the number of victims of drug abuse they help.  But a look at how many they claim to have helped compared to the number of constituents UNITE is said to serve will show that it isn't that many people.  Sure, some is better than none, but not to the tune of the many millions they spend.  How can an agency purport that the issue it combats has "victims" when, in the same breath enforce, prosecute, and punish those very individuals? Such dual activities seem contradictory to me.  I do not contend that UNITE is useless in its entirety, but rather the expense of their operation could be used more effectively in a different manner in order to achieve a reduction in drug abuse among citizens of the 5th Congressional District.





Respectfully Submitted,

E. Seth Combs




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