An opinion was requested as to whether a loss of funds advanced to buy controlled substances is the kind of loss for which relief must be sought from GAO under the relief statute or whether the loss should be cleared under the authority statute. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents who are given appropriated funds to use to buy controlled substances often fail to obtain anything of evidentiary value because the potential seller absconds with the Government's money. The current DEA practice is to convene a board of investigation to review the facts surrounding the loss. Then, if the DEA Controller is satisfied that the agent was acting without negligence and in the performance of his duties, the expenditure is recorded as an investigation expense under the authority statute. However, the question raised is different from those previously decided. The loss described is not really a physical loss within the meaning of the relief statute. It is apparently necessary to put certain funds at risk in the course of obtaining evidence of violations of controlled substances laws. Because of the nature of the parties being investigated, there is always the possibility that the funds will be appropriated by the investigative subject or an agent who then refuses to deliver the drugs paid for in the course of the DEA investigative operations. It is the view of GAO that it is quite appropriate to record the lost funds as a necessary investigative expense of the agency and thus clear the account. There is no need to seek relief under the relief statute. However, an agency may not record all losses by law enforcement officials of funds for which they are accountable as administrative expenses. Moreover, an agency must still use the relief statute when an officer or employee loses funds under circumstances unrelated to carrying out the purposes for which the funds were entrusted.
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