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The Drug Enforcement Administration's
Control Over Weapons and Laptop Computers

Report No. 02-28
August 2002
Office of the Inspector General


FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Items Reported

According to the DEA property management system and information provided by the DEA's Board of Professional Conduct (Board),11 the DEA reports that 2 weapons were lost, 2 were missing, and 12 were stolen during the 2-year period covered by our audit.

We reviewed the circumstances surrounding the loss of each item, actions taken by the DEA to document the loss, the results of follow-up action taken, and the DEA's compliance with Department and internal regulations. In addition, we looked for any instances in which the loss may have resulted in physical harm to the public.

Our review of the DEA reported 16 lost, missing, and stolen weapons revealed that in 6 instances the losses were due to agents leaving their weapons unattended. These losses are summarized as follows:

An additional five losses resulted from home burglaries and four more resulted from vehicle thefts. In some cases, losses attributed to vehicle thefts were due to agents inappropriately leaving weapons in their official government vehicle (OGV).

The remaining loss was discovered during a physical inventory. Although the weapon was listed in the property management system as unaccounted for, property management records indicated the weapon was last assigned to an agent who had resigned. The DEA was in the process of reviewing this weapon.

The losses that resulted from unattended or inappropriate security occurred because of violations of the DEA Firearms Policy, Section 6122.42, Firearms Security, Safety and Storage, which requires all weapons to be stored in a safe place when not being carried. Under this policy, agents are personally responsible for preventing the unauthorized handling or unintentional discharge of all DEA weapons and all authorized personally owned weapons. This policy states that weapons may not be left unattended or temporarily stored in an OGV, except for the temporary storage of submachine guns or shotguns. Also, agents must place authorized personal weapons, when unattended, in a secure storage area at the agent's office, home, or temporary domicile. To reduce future losses, the DEA should reiterate to its employees the importance of following firearms security, safety, and storage guidelines. The losses and related circumstances are summarized in Appendix II.

Reports and Investigations of Losses

We reviewed documentation related to the weapons losses to determine if: (1) appropriate action was taken by the responsible employee to submit the initial loss report, (2) firearms were promptly entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer system, (3) the DEA Board recommended disciplinary actions against the responsible individuals, and (4) items were reported to the Department Security Officer. Our results are detailed below and summarized in Appendix III.

Initial Loss Reports - According to the DEA Firearms Policy, the responsible employee for a weapon is that individual who has custody or control of the weapon at the time of loss, theft, or destruction. Upon discovery of the loss, theft, or destruction of any DEA-issued or approved personally owned weapon, the responsible employee should immediately notify the Special Agent-in-Charge (SAC), Country Attaché (CA), or Headquarters Office Head (HOH). After notification, the aforementioned individuals are responsible for the immediate telephonic reporting of the loss, theft, or destruction to the DEA Headquarters Command Center.12 Command Center personnel must immediately notify the DEA Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and the Board. Subsequent to this, a written notification by the SAC or CA should be given to the OPR, Board, and FTU via Teletype within 48 hours of the discovery of the loss, theft, or destruction of a weapon. Also, within this 48 hour time period, the responsible individual should complete Part 1 of a Liability Assessment Process Form (DEA-29)13 and submit it to the local PFI.

The SAC, CA, or HOH then must assign the matter for investigation to a Special Agent of a grade equal to or higher than the grade of the responsible employee and not directly associated with the responsible employee. The investigation includes verifying the facts and circumstances surrounding the loss, theft or destruction as reported by the responsible employee. The investigation also includes developing additional facts necessary to determine whether the property was being used in an official capacity and if personal negligence contributed to the loss or theft. A completed Report of Investigation (ROI) must be submitted to the Board within 30 days of the loss or theft. The ROI includes a completed DEA-29, police reports, NCIC confirmation reports, and any statements or documents pertinent to the incident.

From our review of available documentation, we found that investigations were initiated on all 16 DEA-reported lost, missing, or stolen weapons according to DEA policy. In addition, DEA-29s were prepared for each of the 16 lost, missing, or stolen weapons. However, we noted that in 11 instances the DEA-29s were untimely. The losses were not reported within the required 48 hours, with delays ranging from 1 day to 89 days. In our judgment, untimely reports delay the initiation of the investigation of the lost or stolen weapon.

NCIC Reports - The NCIC system is the primary nationwide method for tracking stolen and recovered firearms. The DEA Firearms Policy requires the responsible employee to ensure that lost or stolen weapons are entered into the NCIC system within 48 hours through the local law enforcement agency where the loss or theft was reported. If the loss or theft of a weapon occurs at a foreign post, the reporting agent must ensure that the missing weapon is entered into the NCIC through the INTERPOL Command Center of the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms liaison officer. The reason records of this nature are entered into NCIC through other law enforcement entities is that the DEA only needs to be able to query NCIC for information to support their ongoing investigations.

We examined NCIC records to determine if the DEA reported 16 lost, missing, or stolen weapons were entered into the NCIC system and found that only 10 of the weapons were reported in the NCIC as an "active record,"; indicating the weapons had not been recovered. Of the 10 weapons active in the NCIC, we found that one actually had been recovered and placed back in service by the DEA. The record should have been subsequently purged from the NCIC.

Of the six items not in the NCIC as an active record, we found that in three instances the weapons had been recovered and removed as an active record. Of these three weapons, one had already been placed back in service by the DEA. The other two weapons were recovered by local law enforcement entities and were being held for evidence.

In the remaining three instances, DEA staff reported the losses to the local law enforcement entity; however, the weapons were still not entered into the NCIC. In our judgment, DEA staff should follow-up with the law enforcement entity or check the NCIC, to ensure that the lost, missing, or stolen weapons were subsequently entered.

DEA Board of Professional Conduct (Board) - According to DEA Policy, the SAC or CA must notify the Board in writing within 48 hours after discovery of the loss, theft, or destruction of a weapon. The Board recommends disciplinary actions and financial liabilities, and issues a separate decision letter to the individual responsible for the lost property.

The Board is a permanent, independent office within the DEA, consisting of five members. The members include three Special Agents, one Intelligence Analyst, and one Diversion Investigator.14 The Board is required to review each investigation report to determine whether disciplinary action is warranted and whether financial liability should be assessed against the responsible individual. 15 After this review, the Board then must send its recommendation to the SAC and the employee. The Board issues a proposal for action to the DEA's Human Resources Division to make the final determination of the action taken. Actions such as warnings, administrative leave, or suspensions are often recommended. In the event of issues involving employee integrity (e.g., driving under the influence, lying during an investigation, or stealing), the DEA OPR should review the case.

We examined the files of the Board to determine if a review was done promptly and an action was taken on the DEA-reported 16 lost, missing, or stolen weapons. In 15 cases, the Board completed its review between 2 to 14 months after the loss report was filed. Because the remaining case involved an employee who had left the DEA, the Board made no recommendation. Examples of recommended disciplinary actions taken on 10 cases included suspensions ranging from 1 to 30 days, letters of reprimand, and cautions. In the remaining five cases, the Board did not recommend disciplinary action because it did not find the employee negligent. Appendix II provides more detail regarding the manner of loss and the disciplinary action taken.

Semi-annual Department Theft Report - Department regulations 16 require all components to submit a semiannual Department Theft Report to the Department Security Officer to summarize losses of all personal and government property that occurred during the previous 6 months. The component's Security Programs Manager is required to prepare and submit the reports by January 31 and July 31.

The DEA's submissions to the Department during our 2-year audit period are detailed in the following table.

REPORTING PERIOD DUE DATE DATE
SUBMITTED
July 1 to December 31, 1999 January 31, 2000 Not submitted
January 1 to June 30, 2000 July 31, 2000 Not submitted
July 1 to December 31, 2000 January 31, 2001 Not submitted
January 1 to June 30, 2001 July 31, 2001 September 05, 2001
July 1 to December 31, 2001 January 31, 2002 January 02, 2002
Source: Department Security Officer

The DEA did not submit any semiannual Department Theft Reports for 1999 and 2000. The individual who was responsible for preparing the reports at the time of our audit said that his predecessor simply had not prepared the required reports. Also, we found that the first semiannual report for 2001 was submitted 36 days late.

We reviewed the lost items identified in the reports for 2001 and compared them to the Board's list of lost and stolen weapons. According to the Board's records, four weapons were reported as being lost, missing, or stolen from January 1 to December 31, 2001. Of the four weapons, we found that only one appeared on the semiannual report. The DEA was unable to tell us why the other three were not on the report. The DEA should submit these reports timely to ensure the appropriate Department officials are aware of all items that are lost, missing, or stolen.

Indications of Public Harm

Of the 16 weapons the DEA reported as lost, missing, or stolen, we determined that 4 had been recovered by local law enforcement agencies. To verify whether the loss of these weapons resulted in subsequent harm to the public, we reviewed DEA records and queried the NCIC system and the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) National Tracing Center database for any indication that the weapons were used in subsequent illegal activity. The circumstances of the recovery of three of the four lost weapons are summarized below.

We were unable to determine the circumstances of the recovery of the remaining weapon because supporting documents did not include details.

Conclusion

We were unable to determine the number of lost, missing, or stolen laptop computers, and whether any losses resulted in a compromise of national security or investigative information. This was because the DEA was unable to provide us with a reliable list of lost, missing, and stolen laptop computers on which to base our audit tests. As discussed in Finding II of the report, the DEA has significant internal control weaknesses and deficiencies relating to the laptop computer inventory.

Regarding lost, missing, and stolen weapons, the DEA reported it had 16 weapons that were in this category during the 2-year period covered by our audit. Four of the 16 weapons have already been recovered by law enforcement entities. Although the number of weapons that were lost, missing, or stolen is small in relation to the total number of weapons in use by the DEA during the time period, the sensitive nature of these items and the possibility for public harm heighten the significance of each loss. We found that most of the losses were preventable because they resulted from oversight and the failure to follow established DEA policy.

Our audit also found that three weapons reported as missing or stolen were never inputted into the NCIC by local law enforcement entities after the DEA notified them. The DEA reporting of losses to management was also deficient. In some instances, the DEA-29 had been submitted from 1 to 89 days late; the DEA Semi-annual Department Theft Reports were not prepared covering the reporting period July 1, 1999 through December 31, 2000, and the first semiannual report for 2001 was submitted late; and finally, not all losses were reported to the Department Security Officer.

Recommendations

We recommend that the Administrator, DEA:

  1. Reiterate to all DEA employees the guidelines for the security, safety, and storage of weapons as outlined in the DEA Firearms Policy, Section 6122.42, Firearms Security, Safety, and Storage.
  2. Reiterate to all DEA employees the policy for reporting losses of DEA property as outlined in the DEA Firearms Policy, Section 6122.13, Loss, Theft, or Destruction of a Firearm.
  3. Provide semiannual Department Theft Reports for the reporting periods from July 1 to December 31, 1999, and January 1 to December 31, 2000.
  4. Ensure the timely and complete submission of future semiannual Department Theft Reports.
  5. Ensure that the missing weapons are promptly entered into the NCIC.
  6. Ensure that appropriate action is taken on laptop computers that are subsequently determined to be lost, stolen, or missing as a result of the reconciliation of the property inventory.
  7. Ensure that a perpetual list of lost, missing, or stolen laptop computers is maintained and that notifications and investigative procedures are performed.


Footnotes

  1. This is an office within DEA that is responsible for determining disciplinary actions and financial liability for lost property.

  2. This is a DEA headquarters unit that serves as a control center for special initiatives and emergency preparedness.† It receives information on property losses, shootings, and arrests.

  3. The DEA-29 is the control document used by DEA to record the results of the investigation and the assessment of responsibility.† A sample DEA-29 is displayed at Appendix V [Not available electronically].

  4. A Diversion Investigator is responsible for investigating cases that involve diverting legal drugs and chemicals used in drug processing for illegal purposes.

  5. The DEA Firearm Policy requires an assessment of individual financial liability to recover the cost of the weapon if the loss or theft of a weapon was caused by an individualís gross negligence.† Gross negligence, as defined in the policy, is "a willful, wanton, or reckless disregard for the standard of care required to safeguard the property.† It is more than inadvertence, inattention, thoughtlessness, or incompetence, but rather requires the individual be aware of the risk created by his/her conduct, and that the consequence of his/her negligence is substantial."

  6. DOJ Order 2630.2A, Protecting and Controlling Federally Controlled Property and Loss/Theft Reporting Procedures, dated October 4, 1977.