October 1, 2003–March 31, 2004
Office of the Inspector General
The DEA's Disciplinary System
We assessed the effectiveness of the DEA's system for investigating employee misconduct and disciplining employees when misconduct is confirmed. Specifically, we reviewed whether allegations of misconduct were properly reported to and investigated by the DEA's OPR, disciplinary penalties were fair and reasonable, the overall process was conducted in a timely manner, and the system was fairly administered.
We concluded that the DEA's system generally functioned well. The investigations of alleged misconduct appeared to be thorough and well-documented and provided a sound basis for making disciplinary decisions. We also concluded that the DEA usually imposed reasonable and consistent discipline for confirmed misconduct.
However, we found problems in various cases that revealed weaknesses in the DEA's three-tiered disciplinary system. On the first tier of the system, the OPR investigates allegations of misconduct; on the second, the Board of Professional Conduct determines whether misconduct occurred and proposes disciplinary actions; on the third, the deciding officials make the final disciplinary decision. The weaknesses we found included the following:
We made eight recommendations to help the DEA ensure its disciplinary decisions are reasonable, free of inappropriate external influences, well-documented, and timely.
Forensic Laboratory Operations
The DEA's forensic laboratories analyze evidence to aid the investigation and prosecution of drug-related crimes and the development of intelligence related to drug trafficking. The DEA's Office of Forensic Sciences operates seven regional and two specialized laboratories. The regional laboratories analyze domestic law enforcement exhibits to identify controlled substances and latent prints. Laboratory personnel provide expert testimony in court and technical advice and support to law enforcement at crime scenes. The DEA's specialized laboratories focus on research, the development of information for intelligence purposes, and computer and other digital exhibits.
This audit followed up on our 1995 report, which identified weaknesses in the DEA's laboratory facilities but found laboratory operations and management controls to be satisfactory, with customer satisfaction ranging from favorable to excellent. In the earlier report, we recommended the DEA enhance certain management controls and consider consolidating its regional laboratories if adequate funding for replacing the facilities was not provided. During the follow-up audit, we evaluated how effectively the DEA's forensic services support the investigation and prosecution of drug cases and the gathering of drug information for intelligence purposes. We also assessed how effectively the laboratories manage evidence and other controlled substances to prevent loss or compromise, and we followed up on the status of facility replacements.
We found DEA laboratory services were effective and the quality of work was well managed. Laboratory services were generally performed in time to be useful to customers. However, turnaround times were significantly longer for latent print and digital evidence services than for drug analyses because of limited resources. In addition, procedures for handling latent print exhibits could be improved to help identify more suspects. DEA procedures allowed many people to handle exhibits prior to examination, increasing the possibility that print residues may be obliterated. DEA procedures also did not provide analysts direct access to all possible databases that could be useful for matching prints. The DEA had established procedures for laboratories to control and account for the receipt, storage, transfer, and disposition of evidence exhibits, and laboratories complied substantially with the requirements. With respect to outdated facilities, we found most had been replaced, with one significant exception. The Southeast Laboratory in Miami has not yet been replaced or relocated and has serious ventilation problems. Additionally, we found security weaknesses at two laboratories.
We recommended, among other actions, that the DEA maximize the results of latent print examinations by adding direct access to more databases, instructing chemists and special agents in the proper handling of exhibits for which fingerprint examination may be critical, and increasing the use of fingerprint specialists at crime scenes. We also recommended the DEA improve the timeliness of latent print and digital evidence services by allocating resources to support turnaround times comparable to those for drug services. We further recommended the DEA ensure exhibits are destroyed within the 90-day standard. The DEA concurred with all the recommendations.
Custodial Accountability for Evidence Held by Field Divisions
The OIG evaluated the DEA's progress in correcting problems in the custody of evidence by DEA field divisions identified in a 2001 internal DEA inspection report. The DEA report stated that evidence custodians needed clearer guidance and were uncertain about their responsibilities for maintaining evidence logbooks, the DEA had no central point-of-contact for uniform evidence guidance, and evidence custodians lacked formal training. The DEA's findings followed a General Accounting Office (GAO) review that had determined the DEA needed to strengthen accountability for drug evidence.
We found that more than two years after the DEA's report - and four years after the GAO's report - the DEA had not corrected the deficiencies by implementing program guidance, improving headquarters support, or developing training. Consequently, some DEA field division personnel continued to handle and store evidence improperly. Our review determined that the DEA had not implemented its own recommendations because its internal report had not been distributed to the appropriate offices for action.
We concluded that the original recommendations from the internal inspection report remain valid. They were as follows:
We recommended the DEA verify during field inspections that corrective actions have been taken. The DEA concurred with our recommendations.
During this reporting period, the OIG received 257 complaints involving the DEA. The most common allegations made against DEA employees included misuse of a credit card, job performance failure, and improper release of information. The OIG opened 7 investigations and referred 13 allegations to the DEA's OPR for investigation.
At the close of the reporting period, the OIG had 21 open cases of alleged misconduct against DEA employees. The following are examples of cases involving the DEA that the OIG investigated during this reporting period:
Use of Informants
The OIG is assessing the DEA's payments to confidential informants used in criminal investigations and drug case prosecutions, its compliance with regulations and controls over disbursements, and the effect that the information provided by informants has had on arrests and the prosecution of cases.
Management of Information Technology
The OIG is conducting an audit of the DEA's acquisition and implementation of IT systems to determine whether the DEA is effectively managing its IT investments.