The Drug Enforcement Administration's International Operations (Redacted)

Audit Report 07-19
February 2007
Office of the Inspector General

Chapter 2: Foreign Office Performance Measurement

According to its strategic plan, the DEA’s primary operational objective is to combat the drug trafficking organizations most significantly affecting the United States. The DEA believes its international operations are critical to accomplishing this goal. Its foreign offices support DEA’s efforts to investigate drug trafficking organizations that often reside in foreign countries. DEA foreign offices are also responsible for assisting counterpart agencies in their drug-related investigations.

According to DEA data, its foreign offices have had success in disrupting and dismantling priority drug trafficking organizations operating throughout the world. Further, DEA work hours data demonstrates that its foreign personnel spend a significant proportion of their time investigating priority targets.

However, the DEA could not provide us with basic objective data regarding the activity of its international offices. For instance, the DEA does not require its foreign offices to track the requests for assistance that they receive. Therefore, the DEA could not objectively assess the quantity or quality of support that its foreign offices provided to other DEA offices and counterpart agencies. Additionally, the DEA did not require its foreign regions and offices to prepare annual performance plans for FYs 2004 through 2006. Instead, we found that DEA foreign regional managers employed a variety of performance planning and evaluation techniques and did so with varying degrees of adequacy. Further, DEA headquarters did not use available data, such as work hours data, in its oversight and evaluation of foreign office activity.

Tracking Investigative Leads

DEA foreign personnel stated that a primary function of their offices was to support DEA domestic investigations by handling investigative leads that are passed on to their offices.31 Additionally, DEA foreign offices receive leads or requests for assistance from other DEA foreign offices, other U.S. government agencies, and foreign counterparts. However, the DEA has no formal, standardized system to catalog and track the investigative leads or assistance requests received by its foreign offices.

Our review revealed that, in the absence of an agency-wide system, several offices had independently created local mechanisms that resembled a lead tracking system. DEA offices in Rome and Milan, Italy; Guadalajara, Mexico; Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey; and Bangkok, Thailand; had developed office-specific practices to help manage work requests submitted to their offices. For example, the DEA Guadalajara office had developed a spreadsheet to track incoming investigative leads. However, the entire office was not consistently utilizing the spreadsheet because it identified the receipt of only 18 leads in about 6 weeks, which was not commensurate with the level of activity reported for this office. Additionally, a senior Special Agent had recorded no leads, one agent had just two leads, and another agent had just one lead in the system.

The DEA Bangkok office did not have a formal, centralized tracking system, but two supervisors we interviewed had developed their own methods, such as systematically identifying action items within e-mails to track the leads they received.

The most complete tracking systems existed in the Ankara, Istanbul, Milan, and Rome offices. These offices employed correspondence logs for tracking requests for assistance between foreign counterparts and the DEA. The Milan office went one step further and developed an action log that recorded all non-foreign assistance requests in an electronic spreadsheet, including DEA investigative leads and other U.S. agency requests for assistance. The log assigned a unique number to each request and included such information as the date it was received, the requesting office and area (i.e., country or city) of responsibility, the subject of inquiry, what type of action was required (e.g., meeting or research), the agent to whom it was assigned, and the date it was completed. The DEA Milan Resident Agent in Charge (RAC) stated he used these logs to monitor the status and completion of assistance requests. In total, the DEA Milan office had systems to sufficiently track all investigative leads and requests for assistance received by the office.

Other offices we visited did not employ systems to manage the leads they received, even though these offices stated they received leads and assistance requests. For example, an agent in the Colombia field office said that he received 50 leads every day. He further stated that he discarded those leads he determined not to be a priority. One Assistant Regional Director in this office acknowledged that some leads probably get lost or fall through the cracks. This manager further stated that the office relied on the requesting domestic offices to follow up on matters for which they did not receive a response. DEA management in Colombia stated that a lead tracking system would help in monitoring the office’s investigative activity and supporting other DEA cases and counterpart requests for assistance. Another DEA manager remarked that requests from all sources should be tracked to ensure that the foreign offices take appropriate action in response to all action items.

In our judgment, DEA managers in the foreign field offices need a standardized tracking system to monitor an office’s fulfillment of investigative lead and assistance requests and to prioritize work. The DEA could also use the data within this system to evaluate the effectiveness of its foreign offices’ support of domestic office cases and assistance of foreign counterparts. The absence of such a system in foreign offices means that the DEA can only estimate the number of investigative leads or requests for information that are handled by its foreign offices, which prevents the DEA from tracking the amount and type of tasks being requested of its foreign offices. Additionally, such a system would provide foreign management with an effective tool to ensure that requests are timely met according to office priorities. At the audit close-out meeting, DEA officials stated that it would develop a template for foreign offices to use in tracking and prioritizing investigative leads and requests for assistance.

Performance Planning

The DEA maintains a strategic plan that is tied to the DOJ’s Strategic Goal II to “enforce the federal laws and represent the rights and interests of the American people”. This plan includes operational objectives and measures to use in the evaluation of each strategic goal, as well as a description of the means and resources believed necessary to accomplish the goals. According to DEA’s planning process, this agency-wide strategic document is supposed to be complemented by performance plans for the DEA’s field components. These field component plans should set the goals by which foreign offices and operations can be measured against the DEA’s mission, strategic objectives, and budget.

In FY 2004, the DEA announced the regionalization of its foreign office structure.32 Before that, each DEA Country Office was required to submit an annual planning document to DEA headquarters that detailed operational objectives for the upcoming year. In October 2003, DEA headquarters announced that these country plans were no longer required because the agency was creating a uniform planning protocol to correlate with the new regional structure of the DEA’s foreign program. Subsequent to our audit close-out meeting, DEA headquarters provided a draft version of its Foreign Region Management Plan Annual Guidelines, dated September 2006, and stated that it would soon finalize these guidelines for use by the Regional Directors in annual performance planning. A DEA headquarters executive manager acknowledged that even after the DEA promulgated its new regional planning instrument the agency’s planning protocol would still be deficient because it had not yet established practices for developing performance plans at the Country Office level. Such comprehensive plans would include more specific office objectives and operational goals that would feed into the region’s strategic plan, thereby complementing the DEA’s overall strategic plan. The following diagram depicts how the various plans flow into DOJ’s strategic plan.

Triangle Diagram with goals pointing down and results pointing up. From top to bottom: DOJ Strategic Plan, DEA Strategic Plan and overall budget, DEA Regional plan, and DEA Country plan.

We recommend that the DEA consider including certain performance indicators in its country plans that are not included in its regional planning instrument. For example, each Country Office should set annual targets for the resources dedicated to the country’s priority areas. Additionally, we suggest the DEA incorporate quantitative data gleaned from the institution of a lead tracking system in its foreign offices to assist in the evaluation of the level of coordination between DEA offices and foreign counterpart agencies, as well as with other DEA foreign and domestic offices.

During the 3-year period that DEA headquarters was developing a standard foreign office planning instrument, there was no requirement for its foreign offices to submit annual performance plans. Three Country Offices we visited continued to develop country-specific planning documents, while two offices halted the process altogether. As a result, we found that DEA foreign regional managers employed disparate planning strategies and procedures, which we determined had varying degrees of success.

For instance, managers in the DEA Andean Region (located in Bogotá, Colombia) developed a performance plan for their region that included a strategic vision, operational goals, and action items to achieve certain objectives. The Regional Director updated this document annually and ensured that the regional performance plan corresponded to the DEA’s overall mission and strategic goals. Our evaluation of this document and our discussion with DEA Andean Region management revealed that this region was developing performance goals and objectives and using the resulting planning document for strategic operating guidance.

The Middle East Region had also developed a regional performance plan. Regional management indicated that it generated the regional document using the individual country plans. This process should be reversed (as illustrated in the previous diagram), with the regional plans setting the overarching goals against which country plans should be created. Although other DEA regional offices we reviewed had plans for their immediate offices, they had not developed strategic planning documents to guide the entirety of their regions. DEA regional managers also mentioned that they use regional management meetings and coordination conferences to develop operational plans and objectives.

Measuring Performance

In addition to developing strategic performance objectives, we believe that regional managers should identify and utilize performance measures and mechanisms of evaluation to determine the level of success the DEA has experienced in meeting performance targets. These goals and methods should also be incorporated into performance planning documents. Similar to our findings related to DEA foreign regional management’s strategic planning efforts, we found divergent practices for measuring the operational activity within the various DEA foreign offices that we visited.33 Additionally, DEA headquarters generally did not use all available empirical data to evaluate the activity and operational focus of its foreign offices.

Disruption and Dismantlement of Priority Target Organizations

The DEA’s Priority Target Activity and Resource Reporting System (PTARRS) is an informational database the DEA developed to track progress on its highest priority cases, which involve targets labeled by the DEA as Priority Target Organizations (PTO).34 DEA foreign regional managers and DEA headquarters management universally indicated that PTARRS was a crucial instrument for monitoring the performance of DEA investigative activity.

We reviewed information from PTARRS related to the success of DEA’s foreign offices in attacking PTOs. According to the PTARRS data, as of June 2006 the DEA’s international offices were actively targeting a total of 212 PTOs. The PTARRS data indicates that the DEA was pursuing high-priority cases and had succeeded in disrupting 29 percent and dismantling 18 percent of these organizations.

DEA Foreign Offices
Priority Target Organizations Disrupted and Dismantled
March 2002 through June 2006


(active &



(active and


(only closed

Percent of
Total PTO

(active and

Percent of
Total Cases

(active and






















Far East







Central America







Middle East







Southern Cone














Source: OIG analysis of Drug Enforcement Administration Priority Target Activity and Resource Reporting System data

The DEA’s re-implementation of annual performance plans in its foreign offices and the evaluation of PTO disruptions and dismantlements are sound performance measurement tools. However, the DEA does not have a comprehensive evaluation of the impact that its foreign office activities and operations have collectively had on the illicit drug trade in the United States. During our review, DEA personnel primarily cited highlights of individual case accomplishments as evidence of the success of the agency’s international efforts. Subsequent to our audit close-out meeting, the DEA provided the following information concerning its international-related enforcement efforts during FY 2006:

Resource Utilization Data

The DEA also tracks the work hours its core personnel – Special Agents, Intelligence Research Specialists, and Diversion Investigators – spend working a particular case. Work hours are tracked through a centralized database at DEA headquarters that incorporates data from all DEA offices, both domestic and foreign. This data is also integrated into PTARRS. DEA management in the field and at headquarters can assess the percentage of time that field personnel spend on particular types of cases (e.g., a PTO, a money laundering enterprise, a non-PTO narcotic trafficking organization). However, in our discussion with DEA headquarters management on tools used to evaluate foreign office operational activity, work hour data was not noted as a measure used in such assessments.

Further, only two of the five Regional Directors with whom we met stated that their office actually used work hour data to identify the focal areas of investigative activity in the region. For example, the DEA Andean Region used work hour data to evaluate the types of activity on which Andean Region offices were focusing. This Regional Director instituted a goal that 65‑75 percent of the case activity in the Andean Region should be related to PTO investigations.

The Regional Director in Rome, Italy, mentioned that he planned to begin performing such analysis once the office’s program analyst position was filled.36 In contrast, the Regional Director of the Mexico/Central America Region stated that office visits and talking with personnel was the best way to assess the performance of offices and operations. This Regional Director further commented that after such face-to-face discussions there was little utility in empirical performance measures, such as analysis of work hour data.

Nevertheless, we believe that DEA managers should incorporate work hour data into Country Office performance planning as a means of measuring and verifying operational efforts towards country and regional goals. We recommend that the DEA include work hour targets in its foreign office performance planning and monitoring to ensure that field and headquarters managers are adequately overseeing and reviewing the focus of the work being conducted by foreign offices. All offices should establish a target for the percentage of investigative work hours applied to PTO cases. For offices with a significant focus outside of PTO cases, work hour targets should be developed for these areas. For instance, if a major office priority is the investigation of non-PTO money laundering organizations, the Country Office should establish a work hour target for this type of case.

Our review of foreign office work hours data for FYs 2000 through 2006 revealed that data for certain foreign offices were not included in the DEA’s system used to track personnel work hours. For instance, FY 2006 data was missing for the DEA foreign offices in Quito, Ecuador; Tijuana, Mexico; and Bangkok, Thailand.37 The existence of these omissions further demonstrates that the DEA did not use work hour data in monitoring foreign office activity.

Our analysis of available DEA work hours data demonstrated that, consistent with its strategic goals, DEA foreign offices were spending a significant amount of investigative effort on priority target cases. For FY 2006 (through July 14, 2006), DEA Special Agents and Intelligence Research Specialists (or intelligence analysts) stationed in foreign offices were, in total, expending 44 percent of their investigative work hours on priority target cases. The following chart illustrates the percentage of work hours in total that DEA Special Agents and intelligence analysts spent on investigative cases from October 2005 through mid-July 2006.

DEA Foreign Office Special Agents and Intelligence Research Specialists
Percentage of Investigative Work Hours by Case Type
October 2005 through mid-July 200638

44% Priority Target Organization, 20% Undefined Case Type, 18% Transportation/Smuggling, 13% Structured Criminal Organization, 3% Independent Trafficker, 2% Money Laundering, 1% Other.

Source: OIG analysis of Drug Enforcement Administration work hours data

Our review of DEA work hours data also revealed that the DEA foreign offices, in total, steadily increased the proportion of combined agent and intelligence analyst investigative work hours on PTOs between FYs 2002 and 2006.39 As the following chart illustrates, the DEA has increased the focus on its PTOs since FY 2002 when it dedicated 19 percent of its Special Agents and Intelligence Research Specialists work hours to priority target investigations.

DEA Foreign Office Special Agents and Intelligence Research Specialists
Percentage of Investigative Work Hours
Spent on Priority Target Cases
Fiscal Years 2002 through 2006 (as of July 14, 2006)

2002: 19%, 2003: 25%, 2004: 30%, 2005: 37%, 2006: 44%.
Source: OIG analysis of Drug Enforcement Administration work hours data

Regionalization Concept

Within each of its seven international regions, the DEA’s Regional Directors are responsible for all DEA activity and accomplishments. The DEA informed us that the regional divides were determined by assessing the international trafficking trends and the illicit drug environment of other countries. Further, the DEA believed the creation of Regional Directors would institute a strategic focus to management and operations in the field and would place senior managers capable of making policy decisions in locations more easily accessible to the other DEA offices in the area. During our fieldwork, we visited five of the DEA’s seven foreign regional hubs.40

DEA Foreign Region Regional Director Location


Bogotá, Colombia


Rome, Italy

Mexico/Central America

Mexico City, Mexico

Far East

Bangkok, Thailand

Middle East

Ankara, Turkey

The DEA requires that Regional Directors visit each DEA office in their territory at least once annually, and that every quarter Assistant Regional Directors visit offices for which they are responsible. Regional managers with whom we spoke stated that these visits included speaking with office managers, meeting with foreign counterparts, reviewing administrative practices, and discussing recent operational activity. Regional Directors believed these visits were important in evaluating the performance of DEA foreign offices and operational activity.

We found certain areas that we believe the DEA should consider for improvement in the regionalization concept. Before the Regional Director position was instituted in 2004, each DEA Country Attaché – the highest-level DEA manager in each country – was responsible for all DEA activity in that country and reported directly to headquarters. Now, Country Attachés report to their Regional Director.41 The offices where the Regional Directors are located received the added responsibilities to plan, manage, and report the activities of the entire region to headquarters. These tasks were in addition to the country-specific responsibilities the offices already possessed.

In the DEA Rome office, we found that the addition of regional duties caused DEA staff to neglect tasks specific to that office in order to address regional needs. For example, an Intelligence Research Specialist stated that he seldom has time to perform tactical intelligence to support the Special Agents in Italy because he is often called upon to perform research and strategic intelligence tasks for other offices in the region. Regional managers in Rome agreed that significant time was being spent on regional as opposed to local operational needs and stated that the addition of a Program Analyst to the office should alleviate this situation. Additionally, the DEA Rome office delegated the responsibility for managing DEA’s operational activity for all of Italy to the Resident Agent in Charge of the Milan, Italy, office. Thus, the Milan Resident Agent in Charge acted much like a Country Attaché for DEA enforcement matters in Italy and reported on operational activity to the Assistant Regional Director stationed in Rome.

Another result of the DEA’s regionalization relates to travel. As noted previously, the DEA requires its Regional Directors and Assistant Regional Directors to visit offices within their jurisdiction. For those regions with broad geographic territory and numerous offices, this results in extensive travel. For instance, the DEA Andean Region has six offices in the northernmost portion of South America, while the DEA European Region includes 17 offices spread across all of Western Europe and most of Africa. Additionally, DEA personnel in Mexico told us that the regional managers located in Mexico City – the Regional Director and two Assistant Regional Directors – were frequently on official travel. Staff in this office stated that the recurring absence of high-level management in Mexico City affected the continuity of operational activity.

Overall, we believe the DEA should assess the impact that added regional responsibilities place on an office, both administratively and operationally. The DEA already conducts foreign rightsizing exercises and a variety of office inspections. We encourage the DEA to use these evaluations to assess the impact regionalization has had on its offices.


We found that the DEA’s international offices were actively targeting high-priority cases and had succeeded in disrupting and dismantling a significant portion of these organizations. However, the DEA does not have a comprehensive analysis of the impact that its foreign office activities and operations collectively have had on the illegal drug trade in the United States. Additionally, for the past 3 years the DEA foreign offices were not required to develop annual performance plans. Moreover, the DEA could not provide us with basic data regarding the activity of its international offices. For example, the DEA does not require its foreign offices to maintain a system for tracking the leads and requests for assistance that they received. Also, DEA headquarters and several Regional Directors were not using available empirical data, such as work hours data, in the oversight of foreign office activity. The absence of a formalized process for performance planning by its foreign regions and offices has precluded the DEA from effectively establishing operational goals and identifying performance indicators to monitor and evaluate its foreign offices.

We believe that the DEA should improve performance planning and measurement for its foreign offices, including the development and implementation of a system for its foreign offices to track the investigative leads they receive and answer. Moreover, the DEA should assess the impact of its regionalization and ensure that all office responsibilities are adequately managed given the changes brought about by the regionalization concept.


We recommend that the Drug Enforcement Administration:

  1. Implement a standardized system for foreign offices to use in tracking and prioritizing investigative leads and assistance requests received from other DEA offices and foreign counterparts.

  2. Implement performance planning instructions and guidelines for DEA Regional Directors to use in developing specific objectives and goals for the region, and develop a planning instrument for DEA Regional Directors to use in generating Country Office performance plans to compliment the regional workplans.

  3. Annually review foreign office performance plans to assess achievement against goals and objectives, and make revisions as needed.

  4. Require DEA Regional Directors and appropriate DEA headquarters management to routinely evaluate work hour data in monitoring foreign office performance against established regional priorities and office goals.

  5. Through the annual rightsizing reviews and formal inspection process, assess the impact that added regional responsibilities place on foreign offices, both administratively and operationally, and develop a plan to resolve areas in need of improvement.

  1. An investigative lead is information or a request for information concerning an active or possible investigative case. A lead typically contains information that investigators use to validate case information or spur an investigation of a suspect or an organization.

  2. As discussed in Chapter 1, the DEA divided its foreign presence into seven regions, each headed by a Regional Director stationed in a select foreign office.

  3. The OIG’s September 2003 audit report on The Drug Enforcement Administration's Implementation of the Government Performance And Results Act included recommendations for the DEA to establish goals and performance indicators that evaluate its efforts in meeting the agency’s strategic mission.

  4. The establishment of a PTO requires a nomination by the DEA case agent and approval by field and headquarters management. The case agent is responsible for updating information on the PTO case in the PTARRS system at least once quarterly. The DEA began its use of the PTARRS system in March 2002.

  5. The Caribbean Division data includes DEA foreign offices located in the Caribbean and the DEA offices in the Bahamas.

  6. The analyst reported to duty shortly after we concluded our fieldwork at the DEA Rome Office in April 2006.

  7. Following our notification to the DEA regarding the omitted data, the DEA informed us that these offices had begun inputting FY 2006 work hours data into the DEA database.

  8. The total of the percentages in the chart is 101 percent due to rounding.

  9. The DEA began using its PTO designation in April 2001.

  10. We did not visit the La Paz, Bolivia, office, which hosts the Regional Director for the DEA’s Southern Cone Region. We also did not visit the DEA’s San Juan Field Division, whose Special Agent in Charge has management jurisdiction over DEA foreign activities in the Caribbean.

  11. The Regional Directors also serve as the Country Attachés of the nation in which they are placed; in these cases the Country Attachés report directly to headquarters.

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