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Follow-up Audit of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Laboratory Operations*

Report No. 04-17
January 2004
Office of the Inspector General

Redacted Version
Appendix I
Audit Objectives, Scope, and Methodology


The objectives of the audit were to evaluate how effectively the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA): 1) forensic services support the investigation and prosecution of drug cases and the gathering of drug information for intelligence purposes, and 2) laboratories manage evidence and other controlled substances to prevent loss or compromise.

Scope and Methodology

The audit was performed in accordance with Government Auditing Standards issued by the Comptroller General of the United States, and included tests and procedures necessary to accomplish the objectives.

This audit was performed as a follow-up to Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Report 95-18, Drug Enforcement Administration's Laboratory Operations, issued in May 1995.

Generally, the audit focused on the regional laboratories that analyze and maintain custody of evidence submitted by domestic law enforcement agencies. We also evaluated work performed by the Special Testing and Research Laboratory (STRL) and the Digital Evidence Laboratory (DEL).

We performed fieldwork at the following locations:

DEA Headquarters Arlington VA
Southeast Laboratory Miami FL
South Central Laboratory Dallas TX
North Central Laboratory Chicago IL
Western Laboratory San Francisco CA
STRL Sterling VA

We did not visit the DEL because it handles a small number of exhibits and does not store evidence following completion of analysis. We did include digital evidence exhibits in the sample for which we surveyed customers about outcomes, satisfaction, and timeliness of laboratory services, and we obtained data to use to calculate turnaround time.67

The audit period covered fiscal years 2000, 2001, and 2002.

We interviewed 86 officials from the DEA's Office of Forensic Sciences, Office of Intelligence, Office of Inspections, Office of Professional Responsibility, and managers and staff at the STRL and the four regional laboratories we visited. We also interviewed 21 customers of laboratory services at: 1) the Office of National Drug Control Policy; 2) the U.S. Customs Service; 3) the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4) the Metropolitan Police of the District of Columbia; and 5) DEA Field Divisions in Miami, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco.

To obtain background information related to the DEA's performance of forensic services, we:

  • Reviewed information on the DEA's mission, its laboratories, services, and customers.
  • Reviewed audit and inspection reports issued previously to identify findings and recommendations related to the DEA laboratories, and determined the status of issues addressed in OIG Audit 95-18.
  • Reviewed DEA guidelines for laboratory operations in the DEA Laboratory Operations Manual and Laboratory Operations Handbook.
  • Reviewed DEA guidelines for agents about evidence handling and communication with the laboratories.

To evaluate how DEA managed the quality of laboratory services, we:

  • Assessed the professional accreditation status of the laboratories through interviews and review of documentation about accreditation.
  • Evaluated the DEA's system of internal reviews of the laboratories through interviews of responsible officials and examination of reports and follow-up correspondence pertaining to the internal reviews.
  • Reviewed Laboratory Orders issued by the laboratories we visited to determine compliance with DEA guidelines.
  • Tested laboratory compliance with selected quality management standards set by the DEA and the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors / Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB), including proficiency testing requirements, equipment calibration schedules, reviews of analytical reports, safety reviews, and testing of reagents.

To assess outcomes and timeliness of laboratory services and overall customer satisfaction, we:

  • Surveyed federal customers about laboratory services for a statistical sample, taken from the DEA's STRIDE, of 635 specific drug, fingerprint, and digital exhibits associated with closed cases. We also surveyed 9 state and local customers.
  • Evaluated how often suspects have been identified using management information the laboratories report to the DEA.
  • Surveyed customers to determine if services for the sampled exhibits were provided in time to be useful to them.
  • Analyzed data to determine turnaround times from the receipt of exhibits by laboratories to the completion of analyses.
  • Surveyed customers to rate laboratory services on a scale of 1 to 5 for the sample of exhibits.
  • Interviewed customers to determine their satisfaction with services.

To assess the quality of the DEA's management controls over evidence and other controlled substances, we:

  • Reviewed DEA guidelines and interviewed headquarters managers and staff about policies and procedures for the receipt, storage, transfer, and disposal of evidence exhibits.
  • Reviewed internal DEA reports for: 1) findings related to management controls and 2) follow-up correspondence with the laboratories to resolve and close findings.
  • Observed laboratory practices, reviewed documentation, and interviewed laboratory officials and personnel concerning management controls.
  • Reviewed annual inventory reconciliations performed with DEA field offices for ensuring that exhibits were adequately reconciled.
  • Tested inventories for the existence and weights of a total of 370 exhibits in vaults at the four regional laboratories we visited.
  • Verified the status of judgmental samples of exhibits over 10 years old still in inventories.
  • Verified control documents for a judgmental sample of 218 case files in the four regional laboratories we visited, and compared data between the case files and STRIDE.
  • Tested whether exhibits currently transferred out of the laboratory for court purposes were in the custody of the DEA Field Division.
  • Determined whether exhibits were held out of the vault by analysts for more than 30 days overall and more than 5 days after completion of analysis.
  • Reviewed records of destruction events performed by the regional laboratories and determined if all destructions had been adequately reconciled and recorded.
  • Identified inventory discrepancies found by DEA by reviewing internal DEA reports for findings related to missing evidence or existing evidence that was recorded as having been destroyed.
  • Interviewed an official of the DEA's Office of Professional Responsibility and an OIG investigator to determine if weaknesses in evidence controls had been identified through internal or OIG investigations.
  • Interviewed laboratory personnel and tested judgmental samples of inventories of other controlled substances.

To follow up on the condition of laboratory facilities and the status of new laboratory construction, we:

  • Interviewed DEA officials.
  • Reviewed DEA and Public Health Service reports on facility conditions.
  • Observed conditions on-site at the four laboratories we visited.

  1. The sample was selected from data in the System to Retrieve Information on Drug Evidence (STRIDE).

*Because this report contained information designated as "Law Enforcement Sensitive" by the Drug Enforcement Administration, we redacted (whited out) that information from the version of the report that is being publicly released. Where such information was redacted is noted in the report.

Redacted Version