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The Drug Enforcement Administration's
Control Over Weapons and Laptop Computers
Report No. 02-28
Office of the Inspector General
Department of Justice (Department) components maintain a large inventory of property, such as weapons and laptop computers, that could result in danger to the public or compromise national security or law enforcement investigations if not properly controlled. In March 2001, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audited the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s (INS) management of its property and found, among other things, that the INS did not have adequate controls over weapons. In particular, the audit noted that the INS categorized more than 500 weapons as lost, missing, or stolen. After that audit, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported many weapons and laptop computers were missing from its inventory.
In response to concerns about the Department’s accountability for its weapons and laptop computers, the Attorney General asked the OIG to conduct audits of the controls over the inventory of such property throughout the Department. The OIG therefore conducted separate audits of the controls over weapons and laptop computers at the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the United States Marshals Service.1 The OIG will issue separate reports on the audits of each of these components, and a capping report describing the results from all the audits. This report covers the audit in the DEA.
The DEA’s mission is to enforce the controlled substance laws and regulations of the United States by bringing to the criminal and civil justice system those organizations and principal members of organizations involved in the growth, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances that are intended for illicit traffic in the United States. At the conclusion of fiscal year 2001, the DEA had a total of 9,209 personnel (4,529 law enforcement) assigned to offices throughout the United States and foreign countries. As of November 2001, the DEA identified an inventory of about 15,000 weapons and 6,000 laptop computers that assist the DEA in performing its law enforcement mission. According to the DEA, of the 6,000 laptop computers in use, only one is authorized to process classified information.
Our audit objectives were to review the DEA’s: (1) actions taken in response to the identification of lost or stolen weapons and laptop computers; and (2) management controls over these types of equipment. Our audit focused on the period from October 1999 through November 2001.
Our audit revealed significant deficiencies in the DEA’s policies and procedures related to weapons and laptop computers. We also found weaknesses in the DEA’s management of purchases, receipts and assignments, transfers, returns of property from employees who leave the DEA, physical inventories, and disposals. The results of our audit are as follows.
During the 2-year period covered by our audit, 16 weapons were reported by the DEA as lost (2), missing (2), or stolen (12). This represents about one-tenth of one percent of the current weapons inventory. The losses occurred mainly because agents were careless or did not adhere to established policy. Over one-third of these losses occurred when agents left their weapons unattended.
In total, 4 of the 16 weapons have been subsequently recovered by local law enforcement entities. From the information available, we determined there was no apparent direct physical harm to the public caused by the weapons’ loss; however, it should be noted that the circumstances surrounding the weapons’ recovery were related to possible criminal activity. The weapons were recovered as a result of local law enforcement arrests, searches, and investigations. Two recovered weapons were being held as evidence by law enforcement entities.
We reviewed the policies and procedures followed when the 16 weapons were lost, missing, or stolen. We found that the DEA performed an investigation in all 16 cases. In eight cases, the agent responsible for the loss was suspended from 1 to 30 days. However, our review also found the following deficiencies in DEA practices, which we consider significant because of the potential impact these weapons have on the public if lost, missing, or stolen:
We further reviewed the DEA’s policies and procedures relating to the control of the approximately 15,000 weapons in use. The DEA recently implemented a new weapons inventory system and just prior to our audit had completed an agency-wide inventory reconciliation. Our review of the new system, which included tests of a sample of 148 weapons, disclosed internal control weaknesses that could cause significant problems with the reliability of the inventory data. We noted the following:
DEA Laptop Computers
As stated previously, the DEA has over 6,000 laptop computers, of which 5,286 are inventoried in the Fixed Asset Subsystem (FAS) and 848 are inventoried in the Technical Equipment Information System (TEIS). Our audit disclosed that the DEA has significant internal control deficiencies relating to its FAS property inventory, which includes laptop computers. During our fieldwork, the DEA was not able to provide us with a reliable list of lost, missing, and stolen laptop computers covering our audit period on which to base our audit tests. We therefore are unable to report accurately on the number of the DEA’s lost, missing, or stolen laptop computers, and cannot determine if any lost, missing, or stolen DEA laptop computers resulted in a compromise of national security or investigative information. The DEA has since informed us that it has completed a reconciliation of its property inventory and has determined that 229 laptop computers are unaccounted for.
The DEA stated that the inventory in FAS contained a significant amount of unreliable data, and the DEA was performing an agency-wide reconciliation and inventory validation of its property (excluding weapons). According to the DEA, problems with the inventory data occurred after the DEA converted its previous property system, the M-204 system, to the FAS in October 2000. At the conclusion of our fieldwork, the DEA’s reconciliation and validation still had not been completed.
As part of our audit, we tested the DEA’s policies and procedures related to the control of the laptop computers in use. Of the 110 laptop computers we sampled on-site, we found that 15 had inventory record errors. Errors included incorrectly recorded serial numbers, property descriptions, locations assigned, and individuals having actual custody of the laptop computer. These errors confirmed the unreliability of the FAS inventory data; however, in our judgment, errors of this nature were not caused by the October 2000 system conversion, but rather point to a lack of internal controls and a failure by DEA employees to adhere to established policies and procedures. Our audit also identified the following internal control weaknesses:
In this report, we offer several recommendations that we believe will assist the DEA to improve its management of weapons and laptop computers. Generally, the recommendations include: completing the property inventory and providing a valid inventory to all PCAs; developing internal controls, policies, and procedures for the Weapons property system; developing and implementing policies, procedures, and regulations to strengthen system controls and the reporting of losses; integrating the financial system and the property management system; and issuing advisories to responsible employees.
The details of the audit results are contained in the Findings and Recommendations section of the report. Additional information on our audit objectives, scope, and methodology is contained in Appendix I.