Drug Control:

Customs Can Do More To Prevent Drug-Related Employee Corruption

T-GGD-99-106: Published: May 25, 1999. Publicly Released: May 25, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Customs Service's efforts to combat drug-related corruption, focusing on: (1) the extent to which Customs has complied with policies and procedures for ensuring employee integrity; (2) an identification of the types of illegal drug-related activities of which Customs employees on the Southwest Border have been convicted; (3) an identification of the Department of the Treasury's organizational structures, policies, and procedures for handling allegations of drug-related employee misconduct and whether the policies and procedures were followed; and (4) the extent to which lessons learned from corruption cases closed in fiscal years 1992 through 1997 have led to changes in policies and procedures for preventing the drug-related corruption of Customs employees.

GAO noted that: (1) Customs has policies and procedures designed to help ensure the integrity of its employees; (2) however, Customs' compliance with these policies and procedures has varied; (3) the policies and procedures consist mainly of mandatory background investigations for new staff and 5-year reinvestigations of employees, as well as basic integrity training; (4) while Customs generally completed required background investigations for new hires by the end of their first year on the job, reinvestigations were typically overdue, in some instances by as many as 3 years; (5) Customs provided integrity training to new employees during basic training, but advanced integrity training was not required; (6) Customs had not formally evaluated its integrity procedures to determine their effectiveness; (7) one way to evaluate the effectiveness of integrity procedures would be to use drug-related investigative case information; (8) Treasury has established procedures for handling allegations of employee misconduct; (9) within Treasury, Customs' Office of Internal Affairs is generally responsible for investigating both criminal and noncriminal allegations against Customs employees; (10) GAO could not readily determine if the Office of Internal Affairs complied with the investigative procedures because Customs' automated case management system and its investigative case files did not provide the necessary information to assess compliance with these procedures; (11) Customs has missed opportunities to: (a) learn lessons from drug-related corruption cases; and (b) change its policies and procedures for preventing drug-related employee corruption; (12) GAO's review of the closed cases of nine convicted employees revealed internal control weaknesses that were not formally reported by the Office of Internal Affairs, even though Customs procedures require them to formally report internal control weaknesses identified during investigations; and (13) these weaknesses included instances where: (a) drug smugglers chose the inspection lane at a port of entry; (b) Customs employees did not recuse themselves from inspecting individuals with whom they had close personal relationships; and (c) law enforcement personnel were allowed to cross the Southwest Border without inspection.

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