Review of the Drug Enforcement Administrationís Custodial Accountability for Evidence Held at the Field Divisions

Report Number I-2004-003
January 2004


Four years after the GAO reported that the DEA needed to strengthen accountability for drug evidence, and two years after the DEA conducted its own review and identified recurring deficiencies that contribute to custodial accountability problems, we found that the Office of Inspections continues to regularly report deficiencies in the DEA's evidence program during its internal inspections of field divisions. We also found that the DEA failed to correct the deficiencies identified as contributing to custodial accountability problems in the field because the DEA has not followed its own Office of Inspections' recommendations to create an Evidence Custodian Handbook, ensure that pre-printed logbooks are used in all Divisions, increase Headquarters support, and develop training to improve its evidence program. Although these recommendations would help Evidence Custodians preserve the chain-of-custody for evidence and help protect evidence against the risk of theft, misuse, or loss, the DEA told us that implementing these recommendations was not necessary.

We believe that the DEA still needs to implement the Office of Inspections' recommendations from 2001. First, evidence problems persist. Second, Evidence Custodians told us that an Evidence Custodian Handbook and formal training would help them perform their duties. Third, some field divisions have acted to improve guidance and training for their Evidence Custodians, which has resulted in guidance and training that varies in quality and uniformity throughout the DEA. Since Evidence Custodians are critical to maintaining the chain-of-custody for evidence, DEA Headquarters, not field divisions, should lead the effort to improve the resources available to Evidence Custodians and ensure uniform standards. By improving the resources offered to Evidence Custodians charged with receiving, safeguarding, tracking, and disposing of evidence, the DEA would reduce the potential for theft, misuse, or loss of seized drugs or monies.


We are making two recommendations for the DEA to improve custodial accountability over seized drugs and monies. We recommend that the DEA:

  1. Implement the Office of Inspections' four remaining recommendations by:

    1. Developing an Evidence Custodian Handbook,

    2. Requiring Evidence Custodians to use pre-printed logbooks,

    3. Identifying and designating a DEA employee with evidence custodian expertise to serve as the point-of-contact for all Evidence Custodians, and

    4. Developing a comprehensive training program for personnel assigned Evidence Custodians duties.

  2. Verify during field inspections that Evidence Custodians have an Evidence Custodian Handbook, use pre-printed logbooks, know the point-of-contact for evidence issues, and attend appropriate Evidence Custodian training.