The DEA enforces federal laws and regulations related to the growth, production, or distribution of controlled substances. In addition, the DEA seeks to reduce the supply of and demand for illicit drugs, both domestically and internationally. The DEA has approximately 10,800 employees staffing its 21 division offices in the United States and the Caribbean and 87 offices in 63 other countries.
The OIG’s Evaluation and Inspections Division examined the work of the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC). EPIC provides federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies intelligence information for use in investigations and operations that target drug smuggling and other criminal activities, primarily along the Southwest border. EPIC is a multi-agency center located in El Paso, Texas. EPIC is led and funded by the DEA, has representatives from 21 different agencies, and provides information to over 19,000 law enforcement officers and analysts nationwide.
The OIG review found that EPIC’s partner agencies and users regard EPIC’s products and services as valuable and useful. However, we identified significant weaknesses that have prevented EPIC from being as effective as it could be.
We found that EPIC could better inform users and potential users about its products and services that could assist them. Further, EPIC had not sustained the staffing for some key interdiction programs, such as its Fraudulent Document unit, its Air Watch unit, or its Maritime Intelligence unit, and as a result EPIC’s service to users in these program areas had been disrupted or diminished for periods of time.
In addition, we found that the lack of an up-to-date agreement between EPIC and its participating members has contributed to coordination problems, such as EPIC member agencies not sharing information or contributing resources to sustain programs at EPIC. EPIC could not produce a complete record of drug seizures nationwide because of incomplete reporting into the National Seizure System, which is managed by EPIC. Only five federal agencies are required to report their drug seizures to the system, and only seizures above certain threshold amounts must be reported. Similarly, state and local law enforcement agencies are not required to report drug seizures. The number of different state and local law enforcement agencies that reported drug seizure events directly into the National Seizure System during FY 2008 represented only about 1 percent of these agencies nationwide.
Further, we found that EPIC’s coordination with federal and state intelligence organizations across the country is inconsistent. EPIC did not maintain an up-to-date list of key intelligence and fusion centers where multiple agencies’ resources are shared and their points of contact. In addition, EPIC did not know if it had users in each center. Of the 107 intelligence and fusion centers we identified, 23 did not have staff authorized to use EPIC.
We also found that as the number of participating agencies at EPIC increased overall, federal agencies submitted fewer requests for information from EPIC’s databases between FY 2005 and FY 2009. By contrast, the total number of similar requests for information submitted to EPIC by state and local law enforcement had steadily increased. We are concerned about the decline in the use of EPIC by some federal agencies at a time of their increased focus on combating smuggling and associated violence on the Southwest border.
In addition, we found that EPIC does not analyze some information that it uniquely collects, and as a result, EPIC may be overlooking drug trafficking trends and patterns that could assist interdiction investigations and operations. For example, at the time of our review, EPIC was not identifying trends or patterns in the use of documents sent to EPIC that were suspected of being used to commit fraud.
While EPIC generally complements other drug intelligence centers, such as the National Drug Intelligence Center, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the Crime and Narcotics Center, and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Fusion Center, we found overlap in some program areas. We believe that updated guidance on the roles and missions of the various counterdrug intelligence centers is needed.
Our report made 11 recommendations to improve EPIC’s utility to the law enforcement and intelligence communities. The DEA and the Department stated that they concurred with our recommendations and have begun implementing corrective actions.
The OIG’s Audit Division examined the DEA’s Clandestine Laboratory Cleanup Program, focusing on the removal and disposal of the chemicals and equipment that are used to manufacture illegal drugs, such as methamphetamine. Due to the chemicals used to make drugs and the waste generated during the “cooking” process, clandestine laboratories present significant safety and health risks to law enforcement and to the public. As a result, the DEA contracts with vendors who remove the waste from the clandestine drug laboratory sites seized by the DEA or by state and local law enforcement agencies, and transport the waste to a disposal facility.
The audit found that the DEA’s Clandestine Laboratory Cleanup program had significant problems, including missing documentation to confirm that hazardous waste materials were removed from cleanup sites or disposed of properly. While the DEA implemented new policies in 2008 designed to address the problems in its program, we concluded that there are remaining steps the DEA should take to ensure that hazardous materials are accounted for and properly disposed of by its vendors.
Since the initiation of its Cleanup Program in 1989, the DEA has funded more than 70,000 clandestine drug laboratory cleanups. One of the methods that the DEA uses to ensure that the hazardous waste is removed properly is to require contractors to obtain Certificates of Disposal from a disposal facility regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as verification that the hazardous waste materials were disposed of properly. In addition, the EPA requires manifests that detail the quantity and types of hazardous materials removed from clandestine drug laboratory sites and that document the chain of custody of the hazardous materials from the time the waste is removed from the site until it is delivered to an EPA-regulated disposal facility.
In 1999, the OIG reviewed the DEA’s Cleanup Program and found that 72 percent of the manifests were not signed by the vendor and that Certificates of Disposal were missing in 53 percent of the files reviewed.
In our current audit, the DEA provided a list of 1,747 cleanups between 2004 and 2008 for which Certificates of Disposal had not been provided by the vendor. According to the DEA, one vendor was responsible for 1,132 (65 percent) of the missing Certificates of Disposal. The OIG Investigations Division investigated and referred this matter to a USAO, which resulted in a civil settlement with the vendor.
Our audit found that in the remaining 615 cleanups without certificates, the DEA has worked with the vendors in an effort to obtain other legal assurance that the hazardous waste was disposed of properly and not diverted for the manufacture of illegal drugs or illegally dumped in a manner harmful to the environment. Since March 2009, the DEA has obtained 555 (90 percent) of the 615 certificates that were not provided by the vendors.
We also sampled files from 606 cleanups that occurred during FYs 2006 through 2008. We found that the DEA did not have Certificates of Disposal from the vendors for 28 of the 606 cleanups (5 percent) and did not have the final manifests for 52 of the 606 cleanups (9 percent).
The DEA was able to obtain from the disposal facilities either the certificates or a final manifest for the majority of these cleanups. However, for three cleanups the DEA did not obtain either a Certificate of Disposal or a final manifest.
In FY 2008 the DEA implemented a new requirement in its contracts that it will not pay the vendors’ invoices until after the vendor has submitted a Certificate of Disposal. We believe this policy, if enforced consistently, should help ensure that the hazardous waste is disposed of properly.
In addition, the DEA has implemented several cost saving measures to help reduce cleanup costs, such as allowing more businesses to compete for coverage of the contract area which has resulted in price reductions during the contract bidding process. Additionally, the DEA’s Authorized Central Storage Container Program, which allows law enforcement officers to store hazardous materials from small laboratories in a safe and secure location pending the final removal by a DEA vendor, resulted in cost savings of over $4.2 million during FYs 2006 through 2008.
The report made six recommendations designed to strengthen the DEA’s Laboratory Cleanup Program, including that the DEA ensure that final manifests are submitted with vendor invoices and that invoices are not paid until a final manifest is received. The DEA agreed with our recommendations and is taking steps to implement them.
During this reporting period, the OIG received 268 complaints involving the DEA. The most common allegations made against DEA employees included job performance failure; theft or loss of seized property, money, or drugs; waste; and mismanagement. The majority of the complaints were considered management issues and were provided to the DEA for its review and appropriate action.
At the close of the reporting period, the OIG had 19 open cases of alleged misconduct against DEA employees. The most common allegations were false statements, release of information, and personal relationship violations. The following is an example of a case involving the DEA that the OIG’s Investigations Division handled during this reporting period:
- An investigation by the OIG’s New York Field Office and the DEA led to the arrest of a DEA special agent, assigned to the New York Field Division, on charges of possession of child pornography. The investigation determined that the special agent possessed images and videos of child pornography on his computer hard drives. Judicial proceedings continue.
The OIG is examining the allocation and utilization of DEA personnel on narcotics-related investigations, as well as the number and types of drug investigations handled by the DEA.
The DEA’s Mobile Enforcement Teams
The OIG’s Audit Division is assessing the DEA’s design, implementation, and effectiveness of the Mobile Enforcement Teams program. The DEA deploys mobile enforcement teams to assist state, local, and tribal law enforcement in an effort to disrupt or dismantle violent drug trafficking organizations and gangs.