Drug Control:

Better Coordination with the Department of Homeland Security and an Updated Accountability Framework can Further Enhance DEA's Efforts to Meet Post-9/11 Responsibilities

GAO-09-63: Published: Mar 20, 2009. Publicly Released: Apr 20, 2009.

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Given the global context of the war on drugs--coupled with growing recognition since September 11, 2001 (9/11), of the nexus between drug trafficking and terrorism--the mission of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and efforts to forge effective interagency partnerships and coordination are increasingly important. GAO was asked to examine, in the context of the post-9/11 environment, DEA's (1) priorities, (2) interagency partnerships and coordination mechanisms, and (3) strategic plan and performance measures. GAO reviewed DEA policy, planning, and budget documents and visited 7 of DEA's 21 domestic field offices and 3 of its 7 regional offices abroad-- sites selected to reflect diverse drug-trafficking threats, among other factors. GAO also contacted other relevant federal agencies-- including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)--and various state and local partner agencies.

Since 9/11, while continuing its primary mission of enforcing U.S. controlled substances laws, DEA has supported U.S. counterterrorism efforts by prioritizing narcoterrorism cases--drug-trafficking cases linked to terrorism-- and by implementing other policies and actions, such as collecting terrorismrelated intelligence from confidential informants and foreign partners. Also, DEA is using a new enforcement authority to pursue and arrest narcoterrorists--even those who operate outside the United States. Because most of the nation's illegal drug supply is distributed by Mexican drug organizations, DEA's partnerships and coordination with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies that have border-related missions-ICE and CBP--are important. However, an outdated interagency agreement-and long-standing disputes involving ICE's drug enforcement role and DEA's oversight of that role--have led to conflicts and the potential for duplicative investigative efforts. Another interagency agreement, predating CBP's formation under DHS, has led to operational inefficiencies, as reflected in a bifurcated process for handling illegal drugs seized at the nation's borders. That is, drugs seized by CBP between ports of entry are to be referred to DEA, but drugs seized at ports of entry are to be referred to ICE. According to CBP, an updated agreement that specifies a standardized process would be more efficient and less confusing. Further, in conducting the war on drugs, an important interagency coordination mechanism is the Special Operations Division, a DEA-led intelligence center that targets the command and control capabilities of major drug-trafficking organizations. Another coordination mechanism is the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Fusion Center, which collects and analyzes drug-trafficking and related financial information and disseminates investigative leads. However, ICE is providing limited information to the Special Operations Division and is not participating in the OCDETF Fusion Center. As a result, according to DEA, these coordination entities are not as effective as they could be. Resolution of these interagency issues necessitates involvement by both the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security, given that their respective departments' component agencies have been unable to reach mutually acceptable agreements. Notably, because of links between drug trafficking and terrorism, DEA has established new partnerships with the Department of Defense (DOD), especially in Afghanistan, where they share intelligence and DOD provides airlift and other support for DEA operations. DEA's strategic plan has not been updated since 2003; also, DEA's annual performance plans do not provide results-focused measures for assessing the agency's post-9/11 activities, such as counterterrorism efforts. A current and comprehensive strategic planning and performance measurement framework would help to ensure accountability by providing crucial information to DEA's senior leadership for making management decisions and to the Congress and the administration for assessing program effectiveness. In February 2009, DOJ reported that it was reviewing DEA's updated strategic plan.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To further enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking--and its links to terrorist organizations or activities--and to help ensure integrated policy and program direction across all parts of DEA, the Secretary of Homeland Security should (1) direct ICE to contribute all relevant drug-related information to the Special Operations Division and (2) ensure that ICE fully responds.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To further enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has used multiagency intelligence centers, such as the Special Operations Division to coordinate counternarcotics investigations and operations with other law enforcement entities, avoid duplication, and leverage partner agency resources. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the Department of Homeland Security is one of the federal agencies that works with DEA to enforce U.S. anti-narcotics laws. In our March 2009 report (GAO-09-63), we found that ICE was not fully sharing all of its sensitive drug-related data with the Special Operations Division within DEA, which produces comprehensive analyses of telecommunications and electronic data revealing the activities and organizational structures of major drug-trafficking and drug-related money laundering organizations. We further reported that as a result, the Division was not as effective as it might have been. Accordingly, to enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security direct ICE to contribute all relevant drug-related information to the Special Operations Division and ensure ICE fully responds. In June 2009, ICE and DEA signed an agreement, which among other things, required ICE to participate fully in and staff the Special Operations Division. Under the Agreement, ICE committed fully to sharing all investigative reports and records from open and closed investigations, including those related to drugs, money laundering, bulk cash smuggling and financial crimes, gangs, and weapons. Moreover, ICE intended to participate and share information to the same extent as other major federal partners in the Special Operations Division, including sharing information not yet entered into the shared databases. As of July 2011, ICE had fully implemented the provisions of the 2009 Agreement. Specifically, ICE Homeland Security Investigations had (1) assigned a complete investigative unit to the Special Operations Division comprising 10 agents, 6 research specialists, and a Deputy SAC; (2) provided approximately $2 million a year to support this unit; and (3) issued guidance to management officials, Group Supervisors, and agents strongly encouraging the submission of information to the Special Operations Division and describing the Division?s information-sharing and deconfliction capabilities. This guidance directed that all ICE field offices provide all telephone numbers, including contextual case information identified in any criminal investigations targeting narcotics smuggling, narcotics-related money laundering, and terrorism-related activity to ICE's Special Operations Unit at the Division. DEA Special Operations Division officials reported that ICE was a full partner in the organization and ICE's information sharing with the Division had improved since the 2009 Agreement. ICE's actions are consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To further enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking--and its links to terrorist organizations or activities--and to help ensure integrated policy and program direction across all parts of DEA, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security should develop processes for periodically monitoring the implementation of the new memorandum of understanding (MOU) or other mechanism and make any needed adjustments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a component of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), works with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to carry out drug enforcement efforts. In our March 2009 report (GAO-09-63), we found that as a result of an outdated interagency agreement, which predated the formation of DHS and ICE, coupled with long-standing jurisdictional disputes involving ICE?s drug enforcement role and DEA's oversight of ICE's drug-related investigations, conflicts between the two agencies remained unresolved. Accordingly, to further enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking, we recommended that the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security jointly and expeditiously (1) develop a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) or other mechanism to clarify their respective departments' counternarcotics roles and responsibilities, among other things, and (2) develop processes for periodically monitoring the implementation of the new interagency agreement and make any needed adjustments. As part of an interagency agreement signed in June 2009, ICE and DEA established the Headquarters Review Team (HRT), which is, among other things, to periodically review the performance of the Agreement. The Agreement called for the HRT to review the performance of the Agreement after 1 year and then every 2 years, or at any time, upon a written request by either DEA or ICE. The reviews are the joint responsibility of the DEA Chief of Operations and ICE Director of Investigations, or their designees, and both DEA and ICE are to cooperate in resolving any issues and executing any necessary or appropriate modifications to the 2009 Agreement. According to DEA and ICE Headquarters officials, the HRT convened on May 31, 2011. According to these officials, the meeting constituted a review of the 2009 Agreement and affirmed that there were no overarching or systemic issues of coordination or deconfliction which would require headquarters-level resolution. DEA and ICE agreed to keep the lines of communication open between them to promptly resolve any systemic issues which could not be reconciled at the lowest possible level. Furthermore, the participants agreed that future reviews would be conducted in accordance with the time line outlined in the Agreement. Accordingly, the next review is to occur in 2013, provided there were no requests from either agency to conduct a review in the interim. Additionally, according to DEA Headquarters officials, during the first year of the Agreement, DEA conducted ongoing monitoring through agency management and supervisory activities, as well as through other oversight mechanisms (e.g., e-mails and phone calls)to identify any systemic implementation issues. DEA did not identify any systemic implementation issues through these mechanisms. DEA's actions are consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To further enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking--and its links to terrorist organizations or activities--and to help ensure integrated policy and program direction across all parts of DEA, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security should jointly and expeditiously develop a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) or other mechanism to (1) clarify their respective departments' counternarcotics roles and responsibilities, particularly those of DEA, ICE, and CBP, (2) provide efficient procedures for cross-designating ICE agents to conduct counternarcotics investigations, and (3) standardize procedures for handling illegal drugs seized at the nation's borders and making referrals to DEA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a component of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), works with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to carry out drug enforcement efforts. In our March 2009 report (GAO-09-63), we found that as a result of an outdated 1994 interagency agreement, predating ICE's establishment, coupled with long-standing jurisdictional disputes involving ICE's drug enforcement role and DEA's oversight of ICE's drug-related investigations, conflicts between the two agencies remained unresolved. We also reported that a 1996 DEA and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) interagency agreement, which governed the handling of illegal drugs seized at the border and referring of drug related intelligence to DEA by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a DHS component, had led to operational deficiencies at CBP. Accordingly, to further enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking, we recommended that the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security jointly and expeditiously develop a new memorandum of understanding or other mechanism to (1) clarify their respective departments' counternarcotics roles and responsibilities, particularly those of DEA, ICE, and CBP; (2) provide efficient procedures for cross-designating ICE agents to conduct counternarcotics investigations; and (3) standardize procedures for handling illegal drugs seized at the nation's borders and making referrals to DEA. In June 2009, DEA and ICE signed an interagency agreement clarifying DEA and ICE roles and responsibilities and revising the process for cross-designating ICE agents. Specifically, this Agreement directed DEA and ICE to deconflict investigations (i.e., search available data to determine if multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating the same target individual, organization, communications device, or other uniquely identifiable entity and, if so, initiate coordination among the interested parties) to prevent duplicative work and/or personnel from two or more law enforcement agencies unwittingly encountering each other in an undercover situation. Aligned with our recommendation, the Agreement also changed the process for cross-designating ICE agents to investigate narcotics smuggling with a clearly articulable nexus to the U.S. border or port of entry and allowed ICE to select an unlimited number of agents for cross-designation. Implementing these provisions through a more streamlined process has resulted in enhanced flexibility in maximizing investigative resources, according to ICE headquarters officials. Regarding the standardizing of procedures for handling illegal drugs seized at the nation's borders and making referrals to DEA, DOJ has reported that the working relationship between DEA and CBP had been extremely productive under the 1996 Agreement, and there were no discussions to alter the Agreement. As of July 2011, CBP and DEA had not updated the 1996 Agreement because it was still working well for both agencies, according to DEA and CBP headquarters officials. Additionally, CBP officials said that the 1996 agreement was in line with the 2009 DEA/ICE Agreement and CBP was not experiencing problems in the field regarding drug seizures. Specifically, they said that CBP generally works with ICE at the ports of entry and turns over the seized drugs to ICE if there is a nexus to the border. Between the ports of entry, DEA has the right of first refusal for drugs seized by CBP. If DEA refuses, CBP may turn the seized drugs over to ICE, but even when CBP turns a drug seizure over to DEA, CBP informs ICE about the seizure. ICE's actions with respect to DEA are consistent with our recommendation. While CBP and DEA have not revised the 1996 Agreement, CBP's actions and working relationship with DEA under that Agreement are consistent with the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To further enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking--and its links to terrorist organizations or activities--and to help ensure integrated policy and program direction across all parts of DEA, the Secretary of Homeland Security should (1) direct ICE to participate in the OCDETF Fusion Center and (2) ensure that ICE fully responds.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To further enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has used multiagency intelligence centers, such as the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Fusion Center (OFC) to coordinate counternarcotics investigations and operations with other law enforcement entities, avoid duplication, and leverage partner agency resources. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the Department of Homeland Security is one of the federal agencies that works with DEA to enforce U.S. anti-narcotics laws. In our March 2009 report (GAO-09-63), we found that ICE was not fully participating in the OFC, which collects and analyzes drug-trafficking and related financial information, disseminates investigative leads, and develops reports in response to agency requests for information. We further reported that ICE's lack of full participation in the OFC limited the OFC's ability to investigate major drug-trafficking organizations most effectively. Accordingly, to enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security direct ICE to participate in the OFC and ensure that ICE fully responds. In June 2009, ICE and DEA signed an agreement, which among other things, provided that ICE would participate fully in and staff the OFC, with the intention of participating and sharing information to the same extent as other major federal partners in the OFC and including information not yet entered into the shared database. Subsequently, GAO's recommendation provided the impetus for the successful promulgation of an August 2009 agreement between ICE and OCDETF governing ICE's participation in OFC. Specifically, this agreement sets forth the terms by which ICE agreed to commit personnel resources and make information available to the OFC in order to improve OFC's ability to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations and their financial components. As of September 2010, OCDETF and ICE officials reported that ICE was fully sharing its data with OFC, and ICE's current staffing at OFC was in accordance with the August 2009 Agreement. ICE's actions are consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To further enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking--and its links to terrorist organizations or activities--and to help ensure integrated policy and program direction across all parts of DEA, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security should develop processes for periodically monitoring the implementation of the new memorandum of understanding (MOU) or other mechanism and make any needed adjustments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a component of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), works with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to carry out drug enforcement efforts. In our March 2009 report (GAO-09-63), we found that as a result of an outdated interagency agreement, which predated the formation of DHS and ICE, coupled with long-standing jurisdictional disputes involving ICE?s drug enforcement role and DEA's oversight of ICE's drug-related investigations, conflicts between the two agencies remained unresolved. Accordingly, to further enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking, we recommended that the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security jointly and expeditiously (1) develop a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) or other mechanism to clarify their respective departments' counternarcotics roles and responsibilities, among other things, and (2) develop processes for periodically monitoring the implementation of the new interagency agreement and make any needed adjustments. As part of an interagency agreement signed in June 2009, ICE and DEA established the Headquarters Review Team (HRT), which is, among other things, to periodically review the performance of the Agreement. The Agreement called for the HRT to review the performance of the Agreement after 1 year and then every 2 years, or at any time, upon a written request by either DEA or ICE. The reviews are the joint responsibility of the DEA Chief of Operations and ICE Director of Investigations, or their designees, and both DEA and ICE are to cooperate in resolving any issues and executing any necessary or appropriate modifications to the 2009 Agreement. According to DEA and ICE Headquarters officials, the HRT convened on May 31, 2011. According to these officials, the meeting constituted a review of the 2009 Agreement and affirmed that there were no overarching or systemic issues of coordination or deconfliction which would require headquarters-level resolution. DEA and ICE agreed to keep the lines of communication open between them to promptly resolve any systemic issues which could not be reconciled at the lowest possible level. Furthermore, the participants agreed that future reviews would be conducted in accordance with the time line outlined in the Agreement. Accordingly, the next review is to occur in 2013, provided there were no requests from either agency to conduct a review in the interim. Additionally, according to DEA Headquarters officials, during the first year of the Agreement, DEA conducted ongoing monitoring through agency management and supervisory activities, as well as through other oversight mechanisms (e.g., e-mails and phone calls)to identify any systemic implementation issues. DEA did not identify any systemic implementation issues through these mechanisms. DEA's actions are consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To further enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking--and its links to terrorist organizations or activities--and to help ensure integrated policy and program direction across all parts of DEA, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security should jointly and expeditiously develop a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) or other mechanism to (1) clarify their respective departments' counternarcotics roles and responsibilities, particularly those of DEA, ICE, and CBP, (2) provide efficient procedures for cross-designating ICE agents to conduct counternarcotics investigations, and (3) standardize procedures for handling illegal drugs seized at the nation's borders and making referrals to DEA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a component of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), works with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to carry out drug enforcement efforts. In our March 2009 report (GAO-09-63), we found that as a result of an outdated 1994 interagency agreement, predating ICE's establishment, coupled with long-standing jurisdictional disputes involving ICE's drug enforcement role and DEA's oversight of ICE's drug-related investigations, conflicts between the two agencies remained unresolved. We also reported that a 1996 DEA and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) interagency agreement, which governed the handling of illegal drugs seized at the border and referring of drug related intelligence to DEA by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a DHS component, had led to operational deficiencies at CBP. Accordingly, to further enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking, we recommended that the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security jointly and expeditiously develop a new memorandum of understanding or other mechanism to (1) clarify their respective departments' counternarcotics roles and responsibilities, particularly those of DEA, ICE, and CBP; (2) provide efficient procedures for cross-designating ICE agents to conduct counternarcotics investigations; and (3) standardize procedures for handling illegal drugs seized at the nation's borders and making referrals to DEA. In June 2009, DEA and ICE signed an interagency agreement clarifying DEA and ICE roles and responsibilities and revising the process for cross-designating ICE agents. Specifically, this Agreement directed DEA and ICE to deconflict investigations (i.e., search available data to determine if multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating the same target individual, organization, communications device, or other uniquely identifiable entity and, if so, initiate coordination among the interested parties) to prevent duplicative work and/or personnel from two or more law enforcement agencies unwittingly encountering each other in an undercover situation. Aligned with our recommendation, the Agreement also changed the process for cross-designating ICE agents to investigate narcotics smuggling with a clearly articulable nexus to the U.S. border or port of entry and allowed ICE to select an unlimited number of agents for cross-designation. Implementing these provisions through a more streamlined process has resulted in enhanced flexibility in maximizing investigative resources, according to ICE headquarters officials. Regarding the standardizing of procedures for handling illegal drugs seized at the nation's borders and making referrals to DEA, DOJ has reported that the working relationship between DEA and CBP had been extremely productive under the 1996 Agreement, and there were no discussions to alter the Agreement. As of July 2011, CBP and DEA had not updated the 1996 Agreement, because it was still working well for both agencies, according to DEA and CBP headquarters officials. Additionally, CBP officials said that the 1996 agreement was in line with the 2009 DEA/ICE Agreement and CBP was not experiencing problems in the field regarding drug seizures. Specifically, they said that CBP generally works with ICE at the ports of entry and turns over the seized drugs to ICE if there is a nexus to the border. Between the ports of entry, DEA has the right of first refusal for drugs seized by CBP. If DEA refuses, CBP may turn the seized drugs over to ICE, but even when CBP turns a drug seizure over to DEA, CBP informs ICE about the seizure. DEA's actions with respect to ICE are consistent with our recommendation. While DEA and CBP have not revised the 1996 Agreement, DEA's actions and working relationship with CBP under that Agreement are consistent with the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To further enhance interagency collaboration in combating narcotics trafficking--and its links to terrorist organizations or activities--and to help ensure integrated policy and program direction across all parts of DEA, the Administrator of DEA should update the agency's strategic plan to more fully and accurately reflect the agency's post-9/11 responsibilities and activities and also establish appropriate performance measures that provide a basis for assessing progress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Drug Enforcement Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2009 we reported that the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) strategic planning and annual performance measurement framework had not been updated to reflect efforts related to their post-9/11 responsibilities such as assisting in counterterrorism activities and referring terrorism-related intelligence to intelligence community partners. Specifically, we found that DEA had not yet incorporated these activities into its strategic plan or established appropriate performance measures in its annual performance plans that would provide a basis for assessing progress to their goals in these areas. As a result, we recommended that DEA update the agency's strategic plan to more fully and accurately reflect these responsibilities and activities and establish appropriate performance measures that would provide a basis for assessing progress in these areas. Since the issuance of our report, DEA updated its current strategic plan for fiscal years 2009-2014 to include goals and objectives related to these areas. DEA also updated its annual performance plans to include performance measures related to these areas such as measures that track the number of requests for terrorism-related information made to DEA by members of the intelligence community and the percentage of responses to these requests that are provided by DEA by the requested deadline, for example. These actions by DEA to update its strategic and performance plans are consistent with our recommendation.

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