Seized Drugs and Weapons:

DEA Needs to Improve Certain Physical Safeguards and Strengthen Accountability

AIMD-00-17: Published: Nov 30, 1999. Publicly Released: Nov 30, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) controls over seized drugs and weapons, focusing on whether DEA: (1) put in place physical safeguards to control access to and use of drug and weapon evidence; and (2) maintained adequate accountability over such evidence.

GAO noted that: (1) physical safeguards over drug and weapon evidence, which include adequate storage facilities and control procedures, are essential for guarding against theft, misuse, and loss of such evidence and securing it for federal prosecutors; (2) each of the four laboratories and division offices GAO visited had physical safeguards in place, that, if operated effectively, would help control access to and use of drug and weapon evidence; (3) however, GAO found instances of inadequate packaging of drug and weapon evidence and overcrowded drug vaults that could increase the potential for theft, misuse, and loss; (4) GAO found that certain requirements, such as chemists returning drug evidence to the vault within 5 working days after analysis and laboratories destroying drugs within 90 days of receiving authorization to destroy, were not always met; (5) similar issues were reported in the internal inspection reports provided to GAO by DEA that covered DEA inspections performed from March 1996 through August 1998; (6) drug and weapon evidence must also be accounted for completely, accurately, and promptly to help ensure that such evidence is not compromised for federal prosecution purposes and is protected against the risk of theft, misuse, or loss; (7) based on GAO's visits to four selected DEA laboratories and division offices, GAO found weaknesses related to DEA's accountability over drug and weapon evidence; (8) the weaknesses included: (a) incomplete and missing drug evidence documentation, including chain of custody documentation; (b) inaccurate recordkeeping of drug and weapon evidence; and (c) improper accounting for drug weights, including unverified and unexplained weight differences in drug exhibits; (9) DEA's internal inspection teams also reported instances of missing documentation and improper recordkeeping in their reports covering inspections performed from March 1996 through August 1998; and (10) notwithstanding these problems, DEA officials at the four laboratories and division offices GAO visited were able to locate each item selected for GAO's testing that was in storage in evidence vaults or warehouses, and for those items not in storage, DEA provided documentation supporting the current location or the status of the item.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On December 6, 1999, DEA's Office of Forensic Sciences issued a memorandum to all Laboratory Directors to reinforce DEA's policy to ensure that evidence is destroyed within 90 days after receipt of a DEA-48 form. On August 24, 2000, DEA issued a memorandum to its Field Division Offices to reinforce DEA's policy of promptly destroying drugs that are no longer needed as evidence.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require that the Administrator, DEA, take the appropriate steps to reinforce DEA's adherence to existing DEA policies regarding destroying drugs promptly to alleviate overcrowded drug evidence vaults and reduce the additional risk of theft since these drugs are no longer needed as evidence.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On December 6, 1999, DEA's Office of Forensic Sciences issued a memorandum to all Laboratory Directors to reinforce DEA's policy to ensure that evidence is returned to the evidence vault within five working days after being analyzed.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require that the Administrator, DEA, take the appropriate steps to reinforce DEA's adherence to existing DEA policies regarding chemists returning drug evidence to the evidence vault promptly after analysis so that the evidence is not maintained for excessive amounts of time in a more accessible area than that of the vault.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As a follow-up to the GAO report, DEA determined that a policy conflict existed between the Laboratory Operations Manual (LOM) and the DEA Agents Manual. To correct the conflict, DEA's Office of Operations Management determined that the DEA Agents Manual would be changed to reflect the LOM requirement of two recorded signatures on evidence labels prior to acceptance by the divisions. A memorandum was sent to all Laboratories on March 7, 2000, to clarify the application of this change. The memo states that laboratories are to continue checking for two signatures on the evidence labels for evidence delivered to the laboratory in person, but the laboratory policy for acceptance of evidence mailed to the laboratory with only one signature on the evidence label would remain unchanged. In these situations, DEA will accept the evidence with only one signature to minimize the added risk and delay associated with mailing the evidence back. However, the originating office will be notified and reminded of the new policy. On August 24, 2000, DEA sent a memorandum to its Field Division Offices stating that effective immediately agents must obtain the signature of a witnessing agent. DEA plans to revise its Agents Manual, due out in 12/2000, to reflect this change.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require that the Administrator, DEA, take the appropriate steps to reinforce DEA's adherence to existing DEA policies regarding requiring that two signatures be recorded on evidence labels prior to acceptance by laboratory and division office evidence custodians.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DEA's Office of Forensic Sciences issued a memorandum on December 6, 1999, directing all Laboratory Directors to ensure that case file documentation (i.e., DEA-12s, DEA-86s, etc.) is properly completed and maintained in the appropriate case file. In addition, all Laboratory Directors were instructed to ensure that data is entered into DEA's System to Retrieve Information from Drug Evidence (STRIDE) accurately and promptly. On March 7, 2000, another memorandum was issued from the Office of Forensic Sciences to all Laboratory Directors to clarify timeframes relating to the creation of certain records. This memorandum stated that the creation of the evidence inventory record would remain at three working days, however, the timeframe for creating the laboratory primary record would be five working days.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require that the Administrator, DEA, take the appropriate steps to reinforce DEA's adherence to existing DEA policies regarding maintaining complete and properly reviewed documentation in the laboratory seizure files and promptly entering accurate information in DEA's System to Retrieve Information from Drug Evidence.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On February 8, 2000, DEA issued guidance to all DEA domestic offices reinforcing the requirement to perform certain procedures as part of the maintenance of inventories. Specifically, the guidance states that the bulk marijuana ledger should be carefully reviewed for accuracy during the quarterly audits and inventories. Furthermore, the "Nondrug Property (including Firearms) Checklist" used by all domestic divisions during their self-inspection process and the Office of Inspections during its on-site inspections will be used to ensure that inventory discrepancies are identified and corrected in a timely manner.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require that the Administrator, DEA, take the appropriate steps to reinforce DEA's adherence to existing DEA policies regarding identifying any discrepancies--between evidence maintained in the vault and the location of evidence per the Non-Drug Evidence System--during annual inventories and promptly researching the discrepancies and updating the appropriate records.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Assistant Administrator, Operational Support Division, issued a memorandum on June 10, 1999, to Special Agents in Charge, Resident Agents in Charge, Country Attaches, and Laboratory Directors, to clarify and issue specific instructions for addressing packages of evidence to be shipped. In addition, the Drug Evidence Checklist used during the division self-inspection process and the Office of Inspections' on-site inspections was updated in March 2000 to determine whether the office/laboratory is ensuring that the address of the sender or recipient does not contain terms that would identify the contents of the package sent by commercial carriers as drug evidence.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require that the Administrator, DEA, take the appropriate steps to reinforce DEA's adherence to existing DEA policies regarding not specifying the contents on packaging slips when using commercial carriers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a letter dated March 28, 2000, DEA indicated that they issued guidance to DEA's domestic field offices regarding the accounting for marijuana. The guidance specifies the type of information that should be included in the bulk marijuana logbooks, such as date submitted, case number, date seized, amount in kilograms, description, receiving party, releasing party, and date destroyed. The guidance also requires each SAC to inventory its holdings every quarter using the data recorded in the logbook and report the results to the Chief of Operations Management.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require that the Administrator, DEA, take the appropriate steps to reinforce DEA's adherence to existing DEA policies regarding maintaining complete and accurate information in bulk marijuana logbooks.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, DEA's Office of Forensic Sciences issued a memorandum on December 6, 1999, directing all Laboratory Directors to ensure that weights are reported in accordance with DEA policy (LOM 7302.53) and verifications of weights are obtained in accordance with DEA policy (LOM 7302.4.). On August 24, 2000, DEA sent a similar memorandum to its Field Division Offices, directing agents to record weights in accordance with DEA policy.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require that the Administrator, DEA, take the appropriate steps to reinforce DEA's adherence to existing DEA policies regarding chemists and agents recording weights in accordance with DEA policy and chemists obtaining written verification if weight differences, over the DEA established threshold, exist between the weight of drug evidence reported by the agent and that weighed by the chemist.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to guidance issued on February 8, 2000, DEA's Office of Operations Management was updating the DEA Agents Manual to specifically address GAO's recommendation. In October 2001, DEA provided the relevant sections of the updated manual which address this recommendation. The manual now requires that an agent or other law enforcement officer render all weapons safe prior to transferring the weapon to the nondrug evidence custodian for processing, and that a "flexicuff" or similar item be placed through the open action of the firearm.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require that the Administrator, DEA, modify existing DEA policy to include guidance for agents to obtain a written certification from an independent party experienced in handling firearms that firearms and other weapons being submitted for storage in the vault are rendered safe prior to being stored.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DEA, DEA Agents Manual, Chapter 6662, currently requires that the weights be recorded on the forms (DEA-12, DEA-7) used to transfer bulk marijuana exhibits. DEA reassessed this current policy to determine whether it required further clarification and whether to make necessary revisions to the DEA Agents Manual. In a letter dated September 13, 2000, DEA stated that it has agreed to revise the Agents Manual to include this requirement. In October 2001, DEA provided the relevant sections from the updated manual that address this recommendation. The revision to the manual clarifies the requirements for documenting the weights for transferring bulk marijuana.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require that the Administrator, DEA, modify existing DEA policy to include guidance for requiring that if a DEA 12 is used to transfer bulk marijuana: (1) the weight be recorded on the DEA 12; or (2) a copy of the DEA 7 be provided to the evidence custodian.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On February 8, 2000, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued guidance (Subject: GAO recommendations on Seized Drugs and Weapons) to all domestic offices informing them of the GAO review. The guidance reinforced the policies and procedures outlined in the DEA Agents Manual regarding the proper storage of bulk marijuana evidence and the sealing of weapons in evidence bags.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require that the Administrator, DEA, take the appropriate steps to reinforce DEA's adherence to existing DEA policies regarding properly storing bulk marijuana evidence in designated approved areas and sealing weapons in evidence bags.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On December 6, 1999, DEA's Office of Forensic Sciences issued a memorandum to all Laboratory Directors directing them to immediately institute a policy requiring chemists to obtain a witness verification for non-DEA exhibits submitted to the laboratory without a gross weight. DEA also revised its laboratory operations manual to reflect this new policy.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require that the Administrator, DEA, modify existing DEA policy to include guidance for requiring that weights be recorded on the forms used to transfer non-DEA exhibits to a laboratory prior to acceptance by the evidence custodian or requiring that chemists obtain a witness verification if no weight is recorded on the transfer form.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

 

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