DOJ Report Finds That DEA Contracts Actually Gouge Taxpayers and Benefit Ex-Agents
In a report released Thursday, the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) granted contracts to former employees that cost more than half a million dollars more than if those employees would have been paid had they still been working for the agency.
The questionable contracts were used in the agency's Asset Forfeiture Program. The program contracted with Maximus Inc., a government employment agency, to provide workers to tally cash and other assets seized in drug busts that could be sold to generate revenue. The report found that DEA paid Maximus $85 million between 2013 and 2017 under 12 separate contracts.
Although Maximus was the main contractor, contract workers for the program were actually selected by DEA supervisors, and 40% of them were former DEA employees. Those ex-employees had an average of 22 years with the agency, and more than 90% of them reported to the same office they had worked for before they left the agency.
And they got paid substantially more as private contractors than they did as government workers. Two of those workers took in $485,386 more than they would have with their government salaries as senior DEA investigators. They got their positions even though they didn't have masters degrees, which were required for the positions, and even though the DEA didn't officially waive that requirement.
DEA also unlawfully paid local travel costs for contractors who worked away from the main job site. The report said such reimbursement is prohibited for contractors, but did not say how much the travel expenses cost the agency.
"We found that the DEA is highly involved in the process of selecting task order workers, many of whom were former DEA employees and we believe the [Justice Management Division] needs to assess the contracting agency’s role to ensure it is appropriate and to safeguard the integrity of the contract personnel selection process," the report said.
While the OIG didn't find evidence the DEA violated ethics rules in choosing the contract workers, "there is room for improvement," a DEA spokesman said.
While the DEA's hiring practices in this case appear to demonstrate favoritism toward ex-employees at the expense of taxpayers and suggest that "the swamp" extends into the bowels of the anti-drug bureaucracy, this is really rather small potatoes for the scandal-plagued agency.
Just two years ago, another OIG report found that DEA had spent more than $235 million between 2010 and 2015 to pay confidential informants even though "DEA did not adequately oversee payments to its sources," which included snitches who had previously been deactivated because they had been caught committing other crimes or perjuring themselves on the stand in drug cases in which they were involved.
A 2015 report from the Drug Policy Alliance outlines numerous other DEA scandals, ranging from deaths at the hands of DEA agents in the U.S. to a massacre of innocents in Honduras to collusion with the Sinaloa Cartel that allowed it to smuggle billions of dollars' worth of drugs into the U.S. in return for information about rival cartels to its role in helping the National Security Agency spy on the phone calls of Americans. And that's just scratching the surface.
Ripping off the taxpayers for a few hundred thousand dollars with shady contractor deals seems like small potatoes for the $2 billion-a-year drug-fighting agency, but it is part and parcel of a pattern of institutional arrogance and misconduct that goes back decades. Maybe it's time to get rid of the DEA.