September 29, 2016 - 3:15 PM
WASHINGTON - The Drug Enforcement Administration does a poor job overseeing the millions of dollars in payments it distributes to confidential sources, relies on tipsters who operate with minimal oversight or direction and has continued paying informants who were no longer supposed to be used, according to a government watchdog audit issued Thursday.
The Justice Department inspector general found pervasive problems with the agency's confidential source program, which between 2010 and 2015 relied on more than 18,000 active informants to help gather tips, leads and intelligence in drug investigations. More than 9,000 of those sources received roughly $237 million in payments, the report found.
Though the DEA views informants as vital, the inspector general last year criticized the agency for weak controls and oversight of its sources — which in the past have included Amtrak workers — and said in the new report Thursday that many problems remain.
"We found that the DEA did not adequately oversee payments to its sources, which exposes the DEA to an unacceptably increased potential for fraud, waste and abuse, particularly given the frequency with which DEA offices utilize and pay confidential sources," the office wrote.
Among the issues identified: the DEA was unable to measure the reliability of its informants and lacked controls or procedures for when its own sources recruit other individuals to act as "sub-sources." The agency also improperly maintained Amtrak and Transportation and Security Administration employees as sources and only recently developed a policy against using government employees as informants. The use of Amtrak employees as sources ended in March, the report said.
The inspector general also raised concerns that some of the highest-paid DEA sources are tipsters known as "limited use" informants. That category of source operates with minimal oversight or direction in making information available to the DEA. The agency paid roughly $27 million to "limited use" informants during the inspector general's review period, the audit said.
The report estimates that the DEA may have paid about $9.4 million to more than 800 sources who were no longer supposed to be used as informants.
Among them was a confidential source who had previously provided false testimony in trials and depositions, and yet was reactivated as a source, used by 13 field offices and paid more than $469,000.
In a written response to the report, the DEA said it had issued a new policy in July that it said addressed most of the inspector general's concerns.
The DEA also pointed to formal training that's given on the appropriate handling of documentation, tracking and information received from confidential sources.
Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etucker
News from © The Associated Press, 2016