Last updated 08/25/1998, 10:54 a.m. MT

Arizona Republic

WASHINGTON - America's drug czar will soon propose sweeping remedies to try to patch gaping holes in the Southwest border, where tons of cocaine and marijuana continue to slip through undetected, even though the United States is spending $2 billion a year to keep drugs out.

The proposals, the result of two years of study, will be announced this week and will include putting a federal official in charge of each of the 24 entry points and naming a coordinator to oversee the entire 2,000-mile border.

The idea, said Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the national drug control officer, is to curb interagency rivalries and to put somebody in charge of the big picture. Too often, he says, the United States clamps down on one segment of the border only to see smugglers retreat to a less-guarded area. McCaffrey also wants to modernize inspection and intelligence. "The druggies know where the holes are," said James McDonough, McCaffrey's director of strategic planning.

In other words, despite the commitment of 11,000 federal agents, the nation is still losing the battle of the border. While there is no way of ensuring that his plan will help, McCaffrey said that after two years of studying the drug battles at the border, he is ready to try. The retired four-star general believes the United States suffers not only from a shortage of border resources but also from a lack of coordination among the federal agencies that police the border. They include the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the National Guard, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Agriculture Department.

The government estimates that 60 percent of the cocaine and more than half of the marijuana that enter the country each year cross the Mexican border. The border also is an important gateway for heroin and methamphetamine. McCaffrey's plan would clarify vague or duplicative assignments and, in some key cases, establish entirely new responsibilities for many of the 10 primary agencies operating along the border that stretches from Brownsville, Texas, to San Ysidro, Calif. Arizona has six entry points along the way.