oversight

Seized Drugs and Firearms: FBI Needs to Improve Certain Physical Safeguards and Strengthen Accountability

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-12-16.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                 United States General Accounting Office

GAO              Report to the Attorney General




December 1999
                 SEIZED DRUGS AND
                 FIREARMS

                 FBI Needs to Improve
                 Certain Physical
                 Safeguards and
                 Strengthen
                 Accountability




GAO/AIMD-00-18
United States General Accounting Office                                                 Accounting and Information
Washington, D.C. 20548                                                                       Management Division



                                    B-282211                                                                          Leter




                                    December 16, 1999

                                    The Honorable Janet Reno
                                    The Attorney General

                                    Dear Madam Attorney General:

                                    Since 1990, we have periodically reported on government operations that
                                    we have identified as “high risk” because of their greater vulnerabilities to
                                    waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. One of these operations is the
                                    asset forfeiture program operated by the Department of Justice. As we
                                    reported in January 1999, although some improvements have been made to
                                    the program since we first designated it as a high risk program in 1990,
                                    significant problems remain and continued oversight is necessary to ensure
                                    that policies and procedures are followed and that adequate safeguards are
                                    in place.1

                                    Related to asset forfeiture, Justice operations often involve the seizure,
                                    custody, and disposition of evidence that is used by federal prosecutors. A
                                    critical support function is controlling evidence to help ensure that federal
                                    cases are not compromised or weakened by challenges made by the
                                    defense about the existence, completeness, or handling of evidence, or its
                                    ties to defendants. Seized property, including items such as drugs and
                                    firearms, are subject to forfeiture and typically remain in the custody of the
                                    seizing agency until they are approved for final disposition.

                                    This report focuses on Justice’s Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI)
                                    controls over seized drugs and firearms. There is an inherent risk of theft,
                                    misuse, and loss of drugs and firearms because such evidence typically has
                                    a market or “street” value. In addition, evidence can remain in the FBI’s
                                    custody for significant amounts of time due to the FBI’s long-term
                                    investigations. Another factor increasing this risk is changes in custody of
                                    the evidence as the FBI often conducts its operations with other law
                                    enforcement agencies, which can result in evidence being transferred from
                                    one agency to another.



                                    1
                                     Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Justice
                                    (GAO/OCG-99-10, January 1999).




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Given this inherent risk, our audit objectives were to determine whether
the FBI (1) put in place physical safeguards that if operated effectively
would help control access to and use of drug and firearm evidence and
(2) maintained adequate accountability over such evidence. To accomplish
these objectives, we interviewed officials from FBI headquarters and four
selected FBI field offices and reviewed pertinent policies and procedures
provided by the FBI concerning the safeguarding and handling of drug and
firearm evidence. Based on discussions with FBI headquarters officials and
a review of staffing levels for the FBI’s 56 field offices, we selected two of
the largest field offices−New York, New York and Miami, Florida−and two
smaller sized offices−Dallas, Texas and San Diego, California−at which to
perform our work.

At each of these four selected FBI field offices, we observed the location
and condition of storage facilities and physical safeguards over drug and
firearm evidence; randomly sampled and tested recently acquired drug and
firearm items; performed inventory procedures for judgmentally selected
drug and firearm items; and observed FBI personnel weigh selected drug
items and compared the observed weights to the weights recorded on
evidence labels attached to the items. We also obtained and reviewed the
results of recent FBI field office internal inspections to determine if issues
we identified during our fieldwork were indicative of more systemic
concerns at the FBI.2 We performed our work in accordance with generally
accepted government auditing standards from August 1998 through August
1999. See appendix I for a more detailed discussion of our scope and
methodology.

We requested written comments on a draft of this report from the Attorney
General or her designee. The Assistant Director for FBI’s Office of Public
and Congressional Affairs provided us with written comments, which are
discussed in the “Agency Comments and Our Evaluation” section and are
reprinted in appendix II.




2
 The FBI provided copies of (1) electronic communications sent to 41 field offices and
(2) documentation that summarizes the inspection results for 3 other field offices that detail
deficiencies, and associated instructions and recommendations, related to drugs and
firearms that were identified by Evidence Program Audits conducted during recent internal
inspections. According to the FBI Chief Inspector, there were no evidence findings resulting
from the most recent inspections at the other 12 FBI field offices.




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Results in Brief   Physical safeguards over drug and firearm evidence, which include
                   adequate storage facilities and control procedures, are essential for
                   guarding against theft, misuse, and loss of such evidence and securing it for
                   federal prosecutors. Each of the four FBI field offices we reviewed
                   established physical safeguards in accordance with key FBI policy
                   provisions that, if operated effectively, would help control access to and
                   use of drug and firearm evidence. However, overcrowding and inadequate
                   packaging of drug evidence and improper maintenance of the night
                   depository in the drug vault at one of the four FBI field offices we visited
                   increased the potential for theft, misuse, and loss of evidence at that
                   location. In addition, we found inadequate ventilation in the drug vault at
                   one field office that could potentially negatively affect the health and safety
                   of evidence control personnel. At the four field offices we reviewed, we
                   also identified cases where firearms were not certified as rendered safe in
                   accordance with FBI policy. Further, the most recent internal inspections
                   for certain field offices identified similar findings involving the improper
                   storage of drug evidence, inadequate ventilation in drug vaults, and the lack
                   of documentation certifying that firearms were rendered safe, as well as
                   weaknesses in physical access controls.

                   Drug and firearm evidence must also be accounted for completely and
                   accurately to help ensure that such evidence is not compromised for
                   federal prosecution purposes and is protected against the risk of theft,
                   misuse, and loss. However, the FBI’s ability to account for drug and firearm
                   evidence was hampered at one or more of the four field offices we
                   reviewed by incomplete and missing information on chain of custody
                   documents, failure to promptly issue and reconcile reports that are used to
                   verify the location of evidence, and/or inadequate documentation for
                   certain bulk drug seizures. For example, with regard to inadequate
                   documentation for certain bulk drug seizures, we identified two instances
                   at one field office that involved a total of about 770 kilograms of cocaine for
                   which there was no signed certification by any of the FBI personnel who
                   purportedly witnessed the destructions of most of these drugs.3
                   Notwithstanding these problems, evidence control personnel at the four
                   FBI field offices we visited were able to locate each item selected for our
                   testing that was in storage at the field offices, and for those items not in



                   3
                    One kilogram is the equivalent of approximately 2.2 pounds. About 453.6 grams is the
                   equivalent of 1 pound.




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storage, they provided documentation supporting the current location or
status of the item.

Also, timely data entry and data verification are key control procedures
that help ensure that data records are complete and accurate. We identified
several instances at three of the field offices we reviewed where evidence
control personnel or agents entered evidence into the FBI’s Automated
Case Support (ACS) system late without the required explanatory
memoranda. For example, at one field office, 9 of the 50 selected drug
items we reviewed were not entered into the ACS system in a timely
manner and no required memoranda explaining the late data entries were
provided. In addition, at the four field offices, we found discrepancies
between information recorded in the ACS system and information on
written documents associated with the evidence. The FBI’s own internal
inspection teams reached similar conclusions pertaining to accounting for
seized drug and firearm evidence in a complete, accurate, and timely
manner.

While reviewing selected drug items in storage at the four field offices, we
noted numerous discrepancies between the actual weight of drug items
observed during our testing and the weight of these items recorded on
attached evidence labels, which should reflect the current weight of the
item including packaging. Although many of the weight variances involved
only several grams, larger discrepancies included a shortage of 269 grams
of heroin and an overage of 3.9 kilograms of cocaine. The FBI’s ability to
account for drug evidence was hindered by the lack of policies and
procedures on how to identify and address significant weight variances. We
are making several recommendations to address the above issues.

In commenting on this report, the FBI stated that while the information
contained in the draft was, for the most part, factually accurate, it did have
some concerns about the report’s focus and conclusions and
recommendations. Nevertheless, the FBI stated that it plans or has already
taken actions relating to four of our key recommendations, namely, our
recommendations to modify existing policy related to the weighing of drug
evidence, and our recommendation to review actions taken by the New
York Field Office to address various internal control deficiencies. While the
FBI neither concurred with nor took exception to our recommendation to
modify existing policy to include guidance for updating records in the ACS
system to reflect identified changes in the weight of drug evidence, it is
important to note that, at the time of our review, there was no written
requirement to update the ACS system for any such changes. Consequently,



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             the weight recorded in the ACS system may not represent the most current
             weight recorded on the item’s evidence label, thus reducing the FBI’s
             accountability over such drug evidence.

             The FBI disagreed with our recommendation concerning the need to
             reinforce adherence to certain existing FBI policies, stating that
             recordkeeping issues we identified that were also found during its own
             internal inspections do not, in the aggregate or otherwise, suggest
             inadequate accountability over drug evidence given the overlapping
             internal control procedures in place. We disagree with the FBI and, as
             discussed in this report, identified several issues that we consider to be of a
             more severe nature at one or more of the locations we visited and for which
             we did not identify any redundant controls to compensate for the
             deficiencies.

             In addition, FBI stated that we used the findings identified during its own
             internal inspections to extrapolate “systemic” inadequacies in the FBI’s
             Evidence Program, regardless of the circumstance or materiality. The FBI
             also emphasized that maintaining appropriate physical safeguards and
             accountability is an ongoing process as new policies and procedures are
             continually implemented and new employees are continuously introduced
             to evidence procedures. However, the FBI’s internal inspections are cited
             throughout our report to supplement our own findings and illustrate that
             they may be indicative of more systemic concerns. As such, and
             considering the continuous influx of new policies, procedures, and
             personnel, the need for reinforcement of adherence to the existing FBI
             policies listed in our recommendation is valid.

             Further, the FBI stated that it does not concur with our recommendation to
             review existing policy to determine whether current procedures for
             verifying evidence information entered into the ACS system are adequate,
             or if the policy should be modified to enhance the FBI’s ability to detect and
             prevent data entry errors. Based on the inaccuracies we found in the ACS
             system, combined with similar results identified during several of the FBI’s
             own internal inspections, a review of existing policies and procedures
             concerning verifying information entered into the ACS system is justified.



Background   The FBI is the principal investigative arm of the United States Department
             of Justice. Title 28, United States Code, Section 533, which authorizes the
             Attorney General to appoint officials to detect crimes against the United
             States, and other federal statutes, gives the FBI the authority and



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responsibility to investigate specific crimes. Currently, the FBI has
investigative jurisdiction over more than 200 categories of federal crimes
and will conduct an investigation if a possible violation of federal law under
its jurisdiction has occurred. The FBI presents the information and
evidence gathered in the course of its investigation to the appropriate U.S.
Attorney or Department of Justice official who determines whether or not
prosecution or further action is warranted. Prosecution is the
responsibility of federal prosecutors employed by the U.S. Attorney’s
Offices or the Department of Justice.

The FBI is a field-oriented organization in which nine divisions and four
offices at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., provide program direction
and support services to field offices located in 56 major cities.4 The field
office locations were selected based on crime trends, the need for regional
geographic centralization, and the need to efficiently manage resources.5
Each field office is normally overseen by a special agent in charge (SAC),
who is assisted by one or more assistant special agents in charge (ASAC),
squad supervisors who are responsible for investigative work, and
administrative officers who manage support operations including evidence
control.

FBI field offices face significant challenges in controlling evidence where
drugs and firearms are involved. Drug evidence can range from bulk
seizures weighing hundreds of kilograms to residue on paraphernalia, such
as clothing and pipes. Larger quantities of drugs typically have a substantial
“street” value and, therefore, are inherently prone to theft. Regardless of
quantity and form, drug evidence may change hands several times from
seizure to disposition. For example, during a task force operation, local law
enforcement personnel may give drug evidence to FBI agents, who then
transfer it to FBI storage. This evidence will often be transferred to off-site
testing facilities, such as those maintained by the Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA). After analysis, the testing facility will return the
evidence to the FBI. Also, field office personnel destroy drugs that are no




4
Fifty-five field offices are in the United States and one is in Puerto Rico.
5
 FBI field offices conduct their official business both directly from their headquarters
facilities and through approximately 400 satellite offices, known as resident agencies.
Resident agencies are located based on similar criteria as that used for field offices.




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longer needed for prosecution.6 Drug disposal involves transporting the
drugs from FBI storage facilities to off-site destruction areas for
incineration.

Firearms seized by FBI agents during the course of their investigations can
vary considerably. While some seizures may involve a single handgun,
others may result in the confiscation of multiple weapons including
shotguns, rifles, and automatic pistols. Similar to drugs, firearms involve an
inherent risk of theft, misuse, and loss because they have market value and
may change hands several times from seizure to disposition. They may be
seized during joint operations with other law enforcement agencies,
transferred to FBI storage, and subsequently sent to the FBI’s Laboratory
Division in Washington, D.C., or to local law enforcement facilities for
forensic examinations. In addition, in cases in which the (1) firearms were
confiscated from individuals who are convicted of felonies and (2) federal
prosecutors are able to prove that the firearms were used to commit
crimes, the FBI will typically send the firearms to their Laboratory Division
to be destroyed. However, unlike illegal drugs, under certain circumstances
seized firearms must be returned to their owners. For example, if the
firearm was stolen from a legitimate owner or if it is the property of a
suspect who is acquitted and will not waive ownership rights, attempts
must be made to return the firearm to the owner or deliver it to a
designated representative.7

Policies to help ensure that drugs and firearms are properly safeguarded
and accounted for while in FBI custody are developed primarily by FBI
headquarters personnel. Each field office is responsible for implementing
the policies and supplementing them when the SAC determines that it is
necessary. Such policies include the establishment and maintenance of
evidence control rooms for the storage of evidence and chain of custody
documents, which are used to show who has custody of specific evidence
from the time it is acquired by the FBI until it is disposed. In addition, FBI
field offices employ an evidence program manager and evidence control
technicians who accept evidence from agents and are responsible for


6
 For bulk drug seizures, a certain amount of the drugs is retained and stored as evidence
pending conclusion of trials and appeals, while most of the drugs may be destroyed in
accordance with FBI policy.
7
 Return of the firearm to the owner, or delivery to a designated representative, can take
place only if the party receiving the firearm may legally own a firearm and ownership of
such type of firearm is not prohibited by law.




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                   helping to ensure that the evidence is properly secured, protected, and
                   recorded while it is in the FBI’s custody.8

                   As an added control over field operations, each field office is supposed to
                   receive an internal inspection every 3 years. These inspections are
                   coordinated by the FBI’s Inspection Division and include a comprehensive
                   review of all field operations, including those pertaining to safeguarding
                   and accounting for drug and firearm evidence. Internal inspections are
                   performed by teams which include experienced evidence control personnel
                   from other field offices who are knowledgeable about policies and
                   procedures related to seizure, storage, and disposition of drug and firearm
                   evidence. Each inspection typically involves a 100 percent inventory of
                   drug evidence. According to the FBI’s Chief Inspector, once an inspection is
                   completed, significant findings are communicated to the field office SAC by
                   an electronic communication, which contains the details of the findings
                   and recommendations to correct noted deficiencies. Field offices are
                   required to respond to all findings within 30 days. The response consists of
                   the field office’s written plan, or actions taken, to correct the deficiencies
                   identified by the inspection team. Inspection team leaders review the field
                   office responses for adequacy; however, typically no additional review or
                   specific testing is performed by the inspection team until the next
                   inspection.



Certain Physical   Physical safeguards, which include adequate storage facilities and
                   procedures, are needed to reduce the risk of theft, misuse, or loss of drug
Safeguards Need    and firearm evidence and help ensure that such evidence is not
Improvement        compromised for federal prosecution purposes. In addition, physical
                   safeguards can promote a safe working environment for FBI personnel.
                   The four FBI field offices included in our review have physical safeguards
                   in place that, if operated effectively, would help control access to and use
                   of drug and firearm evidence. However, we identified storage problems
                   involving drug evidence at one field office that increase the potential for
                   theft, misuse, and loss of evidence. At another field office, we noted that
                   the drug vault did not have adequate ventilation for odor control and the
                   health and safety of evidence control personnel. We also identified several
                   firearms involving the four field offices we reviewed that had not been
                   certified as rendered safe in accordance with FBI policy. In addition, the

                   8
                    According to an FBI official, all FBI employees are drug tested before they are hired and are
                   subject to additional random drug testing during employment at the FBI.




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                      most recent internal inspections for certain field offices identified similar
                      findings involving the improper storage of drug evidence, inadequate
                      ventilation in the drug vaults, and the lack of documentation certifying that
                      firearms were rendered safe, as well as weaknesses in certain physical
                      access controls.


Physical Safeguards   Evidence control rooms at each of the four FBI field offices we visited met
                      key requirements set forth in FBI policy. In accordance with policy,
                      evidence was kept in designated evidence control rooms used solely for the
                      storage of seized, recovered, or contributed property.9 Doors to the
                      evidence control rooms used to store general evidence, such as firearms,
                      were secured with a combination lock, keypad access control device, or
                      similar locking system. As required by FBI policy, drug evidence was stored
                      in a separate evidence control room, or drug vault, which was also
                      equipped with motion detectors and secured with a dual-entry locking
                      system. According to evidence control or security personnel at each of the
                      four field offices, the doors to the evidence control rooms and drug vaults
                      are equipped with security alarms.

                      In addition, we observed various security devices, including cameras,
                      motion detectors, and door alarms, which according to FBI personnel at
                      the field offices, are operational and monitored by field office personnel
                      24 hours a day. Officials at each of the four field offices also stated that the
                      alarms are routinely tested. However, due to the sensitive nature of the
                      evidence, we did not perform any comprehensive tests to verify the
                      operation of any of the security devices mentioned above because we did
                      not want to risk compromising any of the evidence that may be needed for
                      prosecution purposes.

                      FBI policy also requires restricted access to drug and general evidence
                      control rooms to ensure that evidentiary property can withstand defense
                      challenges concerning custody of the evidence. As required by the policy,
                      we observed at each of the four field offices we visited that two FBI
                      employees were needed to access the drug vault. Each field office we
                      visited limited the number of personnel who had access to the drug vault
                      and the general evidence control rooms, and we observed that the doors to


                      9
                       FBI agents can collect evidence in various ways; for example, it can be seized from a
                      suspected criminal, recovered from an abandoned crime scene, or contributed by a
                      cooperating law enforcement agency.




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                       these areas remained locked unless a specific need for entry arose. Further,
                       in accordance with FBI policy, each of the four field offices maintained
                       access logs for their drug vault and their general evidence control room and
                       required every person entering and exiting the secured areas to sign the
                       log, including their name, reason for entry, and the date and time of entry
                       and exit.

                       Twenty-four of the 44 FBI field office internal inspection results we
                       reviewed−including those for the Dallas and New York Field Offices−
                       documented one or more physical safeguard concerns. For example, eight
                       of the inspections for field offices not selected for our review found that
                       evidence control rooms, either at the field office or an associated resident
                       agency, did not have either a bureau-approved intrusion detection system,
                       motion detector, or alarm. Seven of the inspections for field offices not
                       selected for our review identified evidence control rooms or temporary
                       storage areas with inadequate locking systems, such as no keyless entry or
                       no dual locking system as required by FBI policy.

                       In addition, seven inspections, which included the Dallas and New York
                       Field Offices, cited instances involving (1) improper access to evidence
                       control rooms by FBI personnel, such as an unauthorized employee
                       accessing the evidence control room unaccompanied by the evidence
                       control technician, or (2) an evidence control technician having sole access
                       to the drug and valuable evidence control room. At seven field offices not
                       selected for our review, inspection teams also determined access logs were
                       either not used or were not being properly completed by persons entering
                       the evidence control rooms. For example, some entries did not include the
                       reason for access, the date and time of entry, or the signatures of all
                       persons accessing the area. Other physical safeguard concerns listed in one
                       or more of the inspections included (1) congested conditions in storage
                       areas and (2) an inadequate number of vault witnessing officials.


Storage of Drugs and   Overcrowded and cluttered evidence control rooms, and unsealed and
Firearms               damaged evidence packaging, increase the risk of theft, misuse, and loss of
                       evidence and the risk that critical drug evidence can be compromised and
                       subject to challenges by the defense. At the New York Field Office, we
                       found that the drug vault was overcrowded and contained numerous items
                       that were not stored in an orderly manner, and we observed drug items that
                       were inadequately sealed or were kept in damaged packaging. In addition,
                       FBI policy states that some drugs, including marijuana and cocaine, are
                       highly odoriferous and require more than normal ventilation for odor



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control and for health and safety reasons. At the Dallas Field Office, we
noticed a strong odor emanating from the drug vault and were told by
evidence control personnel that the drug vault did not have exterior
ventilation as required by FBI policy. Also, at each of the four field offices
we reviewed, we identified firearms that had not been certified as rendered
safe in accordance with FBI policy. Firearms that are not rendered safe
prior to storage can create unsafe conditions for FBI personnel as well as
for others who may require access to the evidence.

At the New York Field Office, we observed that shelves in the storage area
were overcrowded and drug evidence was stacked on the floor to an extent
that made it difficult for evidence control personnel to walk through the
room and readily retrieve items we selected for review. Further, the
temporary storage bin for the night depository, which dropped directly into
the drug vault, included a large pile of drug items that had not been moved
and stored in an orderly manner on shelves within the vault. In addition, a
drug evidence bag was leaking and some drug evidence was stored in
crushed and open boxes. We also observed a bulk seizure comprised of
approximately 50 kilograms of cocaine that had not been packaged and
sealed in accordance with FBI policy. Although seized over 11 months prior
to our visit, the drug evidence was stored in two large seed bags in the
same state as it had been acquired−50 bricks of cocaine individually
wrapped with brown tape or duct tape. Following our observation,
evidence control personnel notified the case agent who scheduled a date to
enter the vault and seal the evidence. According to the Evidence Program
Manager, the evidence was sealed on March 11, 1999.

In addition, evidence control personnel stated that the night depository,
which we observed, contained drug evidence held for periods ranging from
about 2 weeks to over 2 months. Because FBI agents frequently make drug
seizures outside normal business operating hours, FBI policy allows field
offices to maintain night depositories. However, the policy requires the
contents from the night depositories to be removed at the beginning of
each workday by an evidence control technician, accompanied by the vault
witnessing official, and drug evidence is to be properly stored in the drug
vault. According to the Evidence Program Manager, although the New York
Field Office has over 1,000 agents, it had only 2 designated vault witnessing
officials at the time of our review. Because such a limited number of
personnel had authorization to participate in opening and entering the
vault, it was difficult to promptly transfer drugs from the night depository
to a proper storage location within the vault.




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Twenty-seven of the 44 FBI field office internal inspection results we
reviewed−including those for the New York Field Office−identified drug
items (or drug and valuable items)10 that had not been properly sealed,
wrapped, labeled, or stored. For example, two of these inspections, for
offices not involved in our review, specifically noted instances of damaged
or open storage boxes that allowed access to drugs. In addition, at one field
office not selected for our review, the inspection results state that a review
of 19 drug and valuable items determined a 100 percent noncompliance of
proper handling and sealing, and the inspection team at this office found
that drugs and valuables, as well as items of general evidence were
commingled and improperly stored. Further, the most recent internal
inspection of the New York Field Office, which was completed on
January 29, 1999, found that the physical condition and organization of the
field office’s drug vault were inadequate.

According to the results of the New York Field Office internal inspection,
the poor condition of the drug vault made it difficult to conduct the
inventory audit or to locate evidence.11 Similar to our observations, the
inspection noted specific instances in which either the evidence was
improperly sealed or evidence boxes appeared to have been broken open
from the weight of other stacked evidence boxes. In addition, the
inspection identified a grate, located about 1 foot off the ground that
reportedly could easily be pried open and allow for direct entry into the
vault. According to the inspection results, the drug vault should be
reorganized and, as appropriate, old items destroyed to make room for new
evidence. The inspection results also stated that the grate should be
secured to avoid unauthorized entry.




10
  While some inspection teams report on drug and valuable evidence separately, other
inspections combine the results of drug and valuable evidence reviews.
11
 According to the results of the New York Field Office inspection, the inspection auditors
discontinued efforts to complete a 100 percent physical inventory due to time constraints.
At the time of discontinuance, 79 of 1,625 drug items could not be physically located or
otherwise accounted for by evidence control personnel.




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According to the New York Field Office’s Administrative SAC and the
Evidence Program Manager, responsibility for the maintenance,
recordkeeping, and storage of drug evidence was transferred to New York’s
Administrative Division only about 1 month prior to our November 1998
visit.12 These officials reported that subsequent to the January 1999
inspection, the drug vault has been relocated and any physical conditions
or concerns that were issues have been alleviated by the move. In addition,
according to these officials, numerous drug items have been resealed and
documented for proper storage according to policy, and evidence control
technicians in the New York Field Office will not accept any evidence into
storage that is not properly sealed or documented.

In addition to the drug storage concerns discussed above, FBI policy
requires that field office drug vaults which are used exclusively for drug
and/or valuable evidence, have exterior ventilation for both the storage of
such odoriferous substances and for the health and safety of evidence
control personnel. At the Dallas Field Office, we were told by evidence
control personnel that the drug vault did not have exterior ventilation as
required by FBI policy. Four of the 44 internal inspection results we
reviewed, which include the New York Field Office, also reported that
these offices did not have adequate exterior ventilation in their drug vaults,
and inspection teams instructed these four field offices to take steps to
ensure such ventilation is established.

Regarding firearm evidence, FBI policy states that firearms are not to be
accepted by evidence control personnel for storage until they have been
examined by a field office firearms instructor and rendered safe. The policy
requires the firearms instructor to sign and date the certification on the
lower left-hand corner of a chain of custody document, designating that
such examination has been performed.13




12
 According to the January 1999 internal inspection results, control and custody of the Drug
Evidence Program was transferred from the Drug Branch of the Criminal Division to the
Evidence Control Unit of the Administrative Division effective October 5, 1998.
13
 Although specific procedures for rendering a firearm safe are not described in the policies
we were provided, according to the FBI Evidence Program Manager, the procedures used by
FBI agents in rendering a weapon safe include inspecting firearms each time they are
handled to ensure they are safe and unloaded.




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                      In our sample of 113 firearms acquired by the four selected FBI field
                      offices, we found 3 firearms in storage that lacked documentation
                      certifying that the weapon had been rendered safe.14 We also identified four
                      other firearms that were certified as rendered safe; however, the
                      certifications for these firearms were dated between 1 and 39 days after the
                      date they had been accepted for storage by evidence control personnel. In
                      addition, we found 11 firearms that had been certified as rendered safe, but
                      the certifications were not dated as required by policy.

                      Similarly, 11 of the 44 FBI field office internal inspection results we
                      reviewed−including that for the New York Field Office−reported a lack of
                      certification that the firearms were rendered safe. For example, inspection
                      results for three field offices not selected for our review identified the
                      following: At one field office, there was no documentation certifying that
                      firearms had been rendered safe for 70 percent of the items tested by the
                      inspection team; at a second field office, about 40 percent of the items
                      reviewed lacked certifications that firearms had been rendered safe; and at
                      a third field office, the inspection team found no certifications for any of
                      the reviewed firearms stored in the evidence control room.



Accountability Over   Written policies covering documentation, record maintenance, and
                      independent verification requirements are essential for maintaining
Drug and Firearm      adequate accountability for drug and firearm evidence. Such procedures
Evidence Needs        lower the risk of theft, misuse, and loss of evidence, and the risk that
                      evidence can be compromised for prosecution purposes while in FBI
Strengthening         custody. According to FBI policy, the intrinsic value of drug evidence
                      requires the establishment of strict, documented accountability. FBI policy
                      requires drug and firearm evidence to be tracked from acquisition to
                      disposition with documents including chain of custody forms, Charge-Out
                      Reports, and disposition memoranda. The policy also requires drug and
                      firearm evidence to be entered within established time frames into the
                      FBI’s ACS system.



                      14
                        We also identified two firearms in storage at resident agencies that, according to the case
                      agents who had custody of the firearms, had not been certified as rendered safe by a
                      firearms instructor. According to the FBI Evidence Program Manager, firearms not
                      submitted for storage are not required to be certified as rendered safe by a firearms
                      instructor. However, according to this official, FBI agents are knowledgeable in the handling
                      of weapons and, after acquiring a firearm, will remove the ammunition thereby rendering
                      the weapon safe.




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                   We identified incomplete or missing documentation for the custody and
                   disposition of specific items selected for testing. In addition, certain field
                   offices did not generate and reconcile reports−in accordance with FBI
                   policy−that identify agents who maintain custody of drug and firearm
                   evidence. We also found that FBI personnel did not always document the
                   reason for late data entry of drug and firearm evidence into the ACS
                   system, and we identified discrepancies between information recorded in
                   the ACS system and the information found on written documents
                   associated with the evidence. Recent internal inspections for certain field
                   offices noted similar deficiencies. Further, we found that the FBI had no
                   written policies or procedures to identify and address significant
                   discrepancies between the actual weight of drug items at any time prior to
                   destruction and the recorded weight of the items on attached evidence
                   labels, which should reflect the current weight of the item including
                   packaging.

                   However, at the four field offices we visited, evidence control personnel
                   were able to locate each item selected for testing that was in storage during
                   our review, and for items not in storage, they provided documentation
                   supporting the current location or status of the items. For example, for
                   drug items not in storage because they had been transferred to DEA for
                   analysis, we were provided a copy of a DEA form showing signatures of
                   FBI and DEA personnel confirming the laboratory’s receipt of the evidence.


Chain of Custody   FBI policy requires its personnel to establish and maintain a chain of
Documentation      custody (a tracking document) for seized, recovered, and contributed
                   drugs and firearms. This written chain of custody must include the
                   signatures of the agent who initially seized or collected the drugs or
                   firearms, the evidence control technician who placed the evidence in
                   storage, and any other FBI personnel who assumed custody of the evidence
                   for any purpose until the evidence is disposed of. It must also include the
                   reason for the transfer of custody and the time and date of any custody
                   change. In addition, it is important for the written chain of custody to
                   include either the barcode number or the case number and exhibit number
                   for the specific item in order to conclusively relate the document to a
                   particular piece of evidence. The proper maintenance of chain of custody
                   documents is a key internal control over seized drugs and firearms because
                   custody of such evidence can change several times from seizure to
                   disposition, and the document must be able to withstand defense
                   challenges during judicial proceedings.




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During our review, we identified various deficiencies in chain of custody
documentation at the four field offices we visited. Specifically, of the 50
drug items reviewed at the New York Field Office, evidence control
personnel were not able to provide a written chain of custody form for one
drug item tested; and for three other drug items, the written chain of
custody provided had neither a barcode nor a case number and exhibit
number to conclusively relate it to a particular piece of evidence. In
addition, of the total of 159 drug items reviewed at the four field offices, we
identified six cases for which either the time or date of a custody change,
or the reason for the change, was omitted from the written chain of
custody. And for two other drug items, although we observed the evidence
in the vault, the evidence control technician did not sign the written chain
of custody when the evidence was accepted for storage.

Similarly, of the 24 firearm items reviewed at the Dallas Field Office, the
written chain of custody form for two of the items had neither a barcode
nor a case number and exhibit number to conclusively relate it to a
particular piece of evidence. In addition, one of the 36 firearm items
reviewed in New York did not have a reason for transfer of the evidence
recorded on the written chain of custody.

Moreover, the chain of custody did not always adequately reflect the
current status or location of the drug evidence. In the San Diego Field
Office, we verified that 10 of the 23 drug items we reviewed involved drugs
that were taken directly to the DEA laboratory for analysis rather than
initially stored. Although transporting drug evidence for analysis prior to
storage is an acceptable procedure, FBI policy requires the chain of
custody to disclose that the evidence has been forwarded to the DEA
laboratory. However, the chain of custody forms for 9 of these 10 cases did
not show the item had been forwarded to the DEA laboratory. FBI officials
at the San Diego Field Office acknowledged that the chain of custody
should reflect evidence transported to DEA or picked up from DEA, and
they stated that they would ensure this would be done in the future.

Thirteen of the 44 FBI field office internal inspection results we reviewed,
which include the New York Field Office, identified deficiencies in the
chain of custody. For example, the inspection team at the New York Field
Office cited failure to properly document the chain of custody for 609, or
over 44 percent, of the 1,377 drug items examined. In addition, other
inspection results for three offices not involved in our review cited
deficiencies found on chain of custody forms, including (1) 17 percent of
drug and valuable items reviewed at one field office did not have



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                            signatures, (2) forms for about 5 percent of drug and valuable items
                            examined at another field office were incomplete, and (3) at a third field
                            office, the final disposition was not recorded for 68 disposed drug and
                            valuable items.


Reconciliation of Charge-   FBI policy requires evidence control personnel to generate and reconcile
Out Reports                 Charge-Out Reports that identify agents who have had custody of drug or
                            firearm evidence for more than 60 days. According to FBI policy, evidence
                            may be charged out to FBI employees who have an official need. For
                            example, a case agent may charge-out an item that is needed by the
                            Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) for trial. Even though the agent forwards
                            the evidence to the AUSA, the chain of custody will continue to reflect that
                            the agent has custody of the evidence. The Charge-Out Report procedure
                            requires FBI personnel to routinely verify the location of evidence, thus
                            ensuring appropriate custody and allowing for periodic review of the need
                            to hold evidence or return it to storage. According to FBI policy, the reports
                            must be run every week or every 2 weeks depending on the size of the field
                            office. They must be distributed to supervisory officials, who in turn,
                            forward them to the person who currently has custody of the evidence so
                            that person can determine whether the evidence needs to remain in their
                            custody or be returned to storage. The results of this reporting process,
                            either the return to storage or the recharging-out of the evidence, must be
                            recorded in the ACS system by the evidence control technician.

                            Based on inquiries of FBI personnel at each of the four field offices
                            included in our review, during the 1997-1998 time frame, only the Miami
                            Field Office typically generated the reports every 2 weeks as required.
                            According to a Miami official, the reports are still run every 2 weeks and
                            are routed to the appropriate supervisor and agent. Because Miami is a
                            large office, it generally takes approximately 30 days to distribute the
                            report and follow up on its return. According to the official, each time the
                            report is sent out, a deadline is set for its return to the evidence control
                            personnel.

                            According to an Intelligence Research Specialist who had been responsible
                            for evidence at the New York Field Office, Charge-Out Reports were not
                            routinely prepared and distributed because this was an extremely large
                            task in New York due to the magnitude of evidence in custody. The official
                            stated that it was very difficult and time consuming to reconcile the
                            Charge-Out Report because the report was not a priority with many agents
                            whose responses are necessary to complete the reconciliation. However,



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                         according to the New York Field Office’s Administrative SAC and the
                         Evidence Program Manager, since the Administrative Division has taken
                         responsibility for drug evidence, evidence control technicians have
                         reinstituted the dissemination of the Charge-Out Report in accordance with
                         FBI policy.

                         An official at the Dallas Field Office stated that during the 1997-1998 time
                         frame, the Charge-Out Reports were prepared every 60 days. However,
                         currently, the reports are run every 2 weeks as required by policy, and it
                         takes approximately 2 to 3 weeks to receive the report back from the
                         agents and reconcile it. Finally, the evidence control technician at the San
                         Diego Field Office stated that, as in the past, Charge-Out Reports are
                         currently prepared once a month, and a 2-week deadline is set for
                         reconciling the report.

                         Ten of the 44 FBI field office internal inspection results we reviewed, which
                         include the New York Field Office, cited problems related to Charge-Out
                         Reports. For example, the inspection team at an office not selected for our
                         review identified a failure to send charge-out reminders and to recharge out
                         evidence kept at one of the office’s storage facilities. According to the
                         inspection team, Charge-Out Reports for this facility had not been run for
                         about a year and a half, and items had not been recharged out to the
                         appropriate agents, which is necessary to maintain accountability for the
                         items in the ACS system. At two other offices not selected for our review,
                         inspection teams identified numerous items that had not been
                         appropriately recharged out during the inspection period.


Documentation for Bulk   FBI policy requires that written notification of a bulk drug seizure be sent
Drug Seizures            to the U.S. Attorney with a copy directed to the AUSA no later than 5
                         workdays after the seizure, and the letter should provide the date after
                         which the bulk of the evidence may be destroyed.15 The policy also requires
                         FBI personnel to witness and certify the destruction of all drugs. Further, to
                         facilitate accountability for drugs from seizure to disposition, the FBI
                         requires that all drug evidence be labeled, and that bulk seizures be
                         photographed in accordance with FBI policy. According to the policy


                         15
                          The letter also informs the U.S. Attorney that a written request for an exception to the
                         destruction process must be submitted to the SAC. If no request for an exception to the
                         destruction is received, the bulk of the drug evidence may be disposed without further
                         contact with the U. S. Attorney.




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related to handling bulk seizures, the drugs must be photographed, and
each photograph must display the case file number; names of the seizing
agents; date, time, and place of seizure; the estimated weight of the total
seizure; and the exhibit number of the seizure. In addition, a yardstick,
ruler, or other measuring device must be positioned in each photograph to
provide a true scale to the bulk seizure. These requirements, including
initially establishing the date after which the bulk of the evidence can be
destroyed, completing documents that certify the destruction of bulk drug
evidence, and appropriately labeling and photographing such evidence, are
valuable tools for promoting timely destruction of bulk evidence,
safeguarding the evidence against the risk of loss or misuse, and ensuring
adequate documentation of the type and volume of evidence for use by
federal prosecutors.

We noted inadequate documentation for certain bulk drug seizures at two
of the four selected field offices we visited.16 We identified two bulk
seizures of cocaine that were made by FBI agents in the New York Field
Office for which critical documentation related to disposition and
destruction was missing.17 In one case, FBI records indicated that
approximately 450 kilograms of cocaine were seized on November 25, 1997.
In another case, the records indicated that about 320 kilograms of cocaine
were seized on December 17, 1997. Although FBI policy requires that
written notification of the seizures be sent to the U.S. Attorney within 5
workdays of the seizure, documenting the date after which the bulk of the
evidence may be destroyed, notification letters for these bulk seizures were
prepared only after we had brought this issue to the attention of FBI
personnel, which was about a year after the seizures.

In addition, although the FBI obtained written approval from the AUSA to
destroy these drugs prior to their disposal, there was no documentary
evidence supporting the destruction of either bulk seizure, which
according to FBI policy must include the witnessing of the destruction by
FBI officials. According to written chain of custody documents, most of the

16
  Due to data entry procedures for recording evidence in the FBI’s ACS system which
provided our universe of items for sampling, 19 of the 50 drug items randomly selected for
our review in New York involved different parts of 4 bulk drug seizures; and 8 of the 46 drug
items randomly selected for our review in Miami involved different parts of 5 bulk seizures.
In Dallas, our review included 2 bulk seizures, representing 2 of the 40 drug items reviewed;
and in San Diego, none of the 23 drug items reviewed involved a bulk drug seizure.
17
 Seventeen of the 50 drug items randomly selected for our review in New York involved
different parts of these two bulk drug seizures.




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450 kilograms of cocaine was destroyed on December 19, 1997, and most of
the 320 kilograms of cocaine was destroyed on April 21, 1998. In response
to our inquiries regarding the missing documentation, FBI personnel
prepared documents dated November 24, 1998, which described the
circumstances of each destruction, including how, when, and where the
destruction took place; persons witnessing the destruction; and which
items were destroyed and which were retained as evidence. The
documents, however, were not signed or initialed by any of the persons
listed as having witnessed the destruction.

As discussed earlier in this report, we observed a bulk seizure of
approximately 50 kilograms of cocaine in the New York Field Office that
had not been packaged or sealed in accordance with FBI policy. This bulk
seizure also did not have evidence labels containing signatures of the
sealing and witnessing agents. Similar to the above cases, prior to our visit,
there was no documentation that the U.S. Attorney had been notified in
writing about the bulk seizure. Likewise, although FBI policy requires
written notification of a bulk drug seizure be sent to the U.S. Attorney
within 5 workdays of the seizure, for the five bulk seizures involving drug
items selected for our review at the Miami Field Office, this written
notification was sent to the U.S. Attorney after the time specified by policy
for three of these seizures (21, 26, and 89 days, respectively), and
notification letters for the other two seizures were not prepared or were
not provided.

Further, for each of the four bulk seizures that contained drug items we
reviewed in the New York Field Office, photographs of the evidence did not
comply with FBI policy. Specifically, none of the photographs we were
provided showed the (1) names of the seizing agents, (2) date, time, and
place of seizure, and (3) estimated weight of the total seizure. Also, none of
the photographs contained a measuring device to show a true scale of the
evidence.

Internal inspection results provided by the FBI indicate similar problems
have been identified at other field offices. For example, the inspection team
at a field office not selected for our review reported that the documentation
prepared for two drug destructions provided neither any description of the
items destroyed, nor the initials of the persons who participated in the
destruction. An internal inspection for another field office not selected for
our review found that one exhibit consisting of 30 boxes, that had been
entered into evidence in 1991, had no “identifying labels” on the boxes. In
addition, the inspection results for another field office not included in our



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                         review revealed that no bulk seizures held in evidence storage at the time
                         of the inspection, which included about 250 kilograms of cocaine, had been
                         photographed as required by FBI policy.


Data Entry of Drug and   Timely data entry and data verification are key control procedures that
Firearm Evidence         help ensure that data records are complete and accurate. FBI policy
                         requires agents to submit documentation related to seized drugs and
                         firearms to evidence control personnel for entry into the ACS system
                         within 10 calendar days of seizure.18 Evidence control personnel have an
                         additional 10 calendar days to actually enter the information into the
                         system. In some field offices, agent personnel directly enter their own
                         evidence into the ACS system. In such instances, FBI policy provides that
                         the agent has 10 calendar days from the date the property is acquired to
                         enter the information into the ACS system and send appropriate
                         documentation to evidence control personnel. According to the policy,
                         agents or evidence control personnel must prepare memoranda explaining
                         the circumstances surrounding late submissions or entries, respectively,
                         and copies of these documents must be maintained in the evidence control
                         room.

                         We identified a total of 13 out of 229 drug or firearm items we reviewed at
                         the New York, Dallas, and Miami Field Offices where evidence control
                         personnel or agents entered evidence in the ACS system late without the
                         required explanatory memoranda. Nine of these items were drug exhibits
                         at the New York Field Office, which were left in the night depository for
                         more than 10 days without being entered into the ACS system. Four of
                         these nine items were not properly entered into the ACS system for over 2
                         months subsequent to the date they were acquired. The other four items
                         entered late into the ACS system without the required memoranda
                         explaining the late data entry involved firearm evidence that was not
                         submitted for storage by the agent. For each of these four items, the initial
                         data entry into the ACS system occurred over 40 days after the items were
                         acquired.

                         Twelve of the 44 FBI field office internal inspection results we reviewed
                         showed similar problems involving delinquent submission of evidence or


                         18
                          When an acquiring agent maintains the evidence rather than submitting it for storage, the
                         agent may submit a data loading form (draft FD-192) to communicate to the evidence
                         control technician the information that is to be entered into the ACS system.




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late data entry and failure to submit the required explanatory memoranda.
At one field office not selected for our review, the inspection team
determined that 77 percent of the drug items reviewed were submitted
and/or processed after 10 days, and the required memoranda documenting
the delinquent submission and/or processing was not found in the
respective files. The inspection teams for New York and eight other field
offices not selected for our review reported late submission of evidence,
ranging from 6 drug and valuable items submitted late at one field office to
174 drug items submitted late at another office. Inspection teams for Dallas
and one other field office not selected for our review reported that
personnel failed to submit the required memoranda explaining the
circumstances for late data entry of drug and valuable items into the ACS
system. According to these inspection results, about 6 percent of the
evidence examined at the Dallas office, and about 5 percent of the evidence
examined at the other field office, was entered past the 10-day limit without
the required memoranda explaining the late entries.

We also noted in performing our work at the four selected field offices that
the FBI has procedures to verify information regarding evidence as it is
initially recorded into the ACS system. Specifically, according to FBI policy,
after entering evidence items into the ACS system, a copy of the automated
record is submitted to the supervisory special agent, primary relief
supervisor, ASAC, or SAC for initialing, and is then filed in the investigative
case file. A Dallas Field Office official reported that, at this point, the case
agent’s supervisor is checking the printed copy for accuracy. In addition,
according to the Dallas official, not only are the entries in the ACS system
verified, but the manual system of storing evidence is also reviewed by
periodic inventories and audits as well as by internal inspections
performed by FBI headquarters about every 3 years. Further, according to a
Miami official, verification of data input is done when evidence is entered
into storage because the evidence control technician reviews all of the data
entered into the ACS system and compares it to the physical evidence prior
to placing the evidence into storage. Any errors noted at that time are
modified by the evidence control technician.

Although the FBI has these procedures for verifying data input, we
identified 15 out of 229 drug or firearm items we reviewed at the Dallas,
New York, and Miami Field Offices that involved discrepancies between
information recorded in the ACS system and information on the written
chain of custody or the evidence label, which is attached to the evidence
item. These discrepancies involved the acquisition date of the evidence and
the names of acquiring, sealing, or witnessing agents handling the evidence.



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Various reasons were provided for these discrepancies, including that
multiple agents had participated in the seizure and packaging of the
evidence, and the information entered into the ACS system was an error. In
addition, we noted one drug item at the San Diego Field Office was
recorded in the ACS system in 1992 with a weight of 47.3 grams; however,
the weight on the item’s evidence label was 473 grams. According to the
evidence control technician, this was a typing error that has been corrected
in the ACS system.

Thirteen of the 44 FBI field office internal inspection results we reviewed,
which include the New York Field Office, also documented instances of
incorrect information in the ACS system. For example, similar to our
findings, the inspection results for one field office not selected for our
review listed multiple deficiencies. The deficiencies identified included
(1) the names of the sealing and witnessing officials listed on the evidence
label not corresponding to the names listed in the ACS system, and (2) the
acquired date and name of the acquiring agent listed on the written chain of
custody form not matching the date and name listed in the ACS system. In
addition, at another field office not selected for our review, certain
information on 48 percent of the chain of custody forms for drug and
valuable items reviewed by the inspection team did not match information
recorded in the ACS system. Further, the inspection results for two other
field offices not selected for our review each noted one of the following
deficiencies related to this area: (1) inaccurate disposition records in the
ACS system reflecting destruction of evidence that was found in storage
and (2) no record in the ACS system of final disposition for drugs and
valuable items no longer in storage.




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Accounting for Drug   Quantity is a key factor for describing and fully accounting for a drug item.
Quantities            Thus, it is important for the FBI’s inventory records to clearly show the
                      quantity of each item in storage or custody. In addition, established
                      thresholds for weight discrepancies and systematic internal validations of
                      drug amounts can help ensure that significant unexplained changes in the
                      quantity of a drug item do not go undetected and unaddressed while in FBI
                      custody. FBI policy recognizes the importance of documenting the amount
                      of drugs seized. It requires that two agents be responsible for ensuring that
                      all drug evidence is initially weighed using scales capable of weighing in
                      gram increments, or counted, and recorded on evidence labels before the
                      evidence is sealed and transmitted to a lab for analysis or placed in
                      storage.19 However, we found that the FBI written policies we were
                      provided had no procedures to identify and address significant
                      discrepancies between the weight of items recorded on attached evidence
                      labels, which should reflect the current weight of the item including
                      packaging, and the actual weight of the drug item at any time prior to
                      destruction.20




                      19
                        FBI requires drug evidence, except for certain bulk seizures, to be weighed when it is
                      initially acquired and submitted as evidence, as well as each time it is removed, opened, and
                      repackaged. DEA also weighs drug items sent by FBI for analysis. After DEA completes a
                      drug analysis, the drugs are repackaged, sealed, and marked with a DEA gross weight after
                      analysis. Both the FBI and the DEA weights are placed on the drug item’s evidence label and
                      should include the weight of the drug and packaging.
                      20
                       DEA has set 2 grams or 0.2 percent (whichever is greater) as a threshold for a significant
                      weight variance for drugs in its custody.




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Federal financial accounting standards and related supplemental guidance
have highlighted the importance of accurately accounting for nonvalued
seized and forfeited property, including seized drugs. Specifically, the
Statement of Federal Financial Accounting Standard (SFFAS) No. 3,
Accounting for Inventory and Related Property, issued in October 1993,
requires the disclosure of all material forfeited property, including those
items with no financial value. One such disclosure is an analysis of changes
in seized property, that would include the amount of seized property,
including drugs, (1) on hand at the beginning of the year, (2) acquired
during the year, (3) disposed of during the year, and (4) on hand at the end
of the year.21

Recently issued supplemental guidance for SFFAS No. 3 states that
amounts for certain drugs, including cocaine and heroin, should be based
on weight.22 For example, the standard unit of measurement for such illegal
drugs should be kilograms. In addition, according to the guidance, material
amounts of other seized drugs should be separately reported by liquid
weight, dry weight, number of tablets, or other appropriate measures.




21
 The Joint Financial Management Improvement Program (JFMIP) has recently issued an
exposure draft, Seized Property and Forfeited Assets Systems Requirements
(JFMIP-SR-99-7, June 1999), that covers systems requirements for seized property and
forfeited assets. According to the exposure draft, a system component that covers the
custody of seized and forfeited property must have the capability to provide information to
allow the independent verification that each item of seized property is in the physical or
constructive custody of the government and that the recorded quantity is accurate.
22
 Reporting on Non-Valued Seized and Forfeited Property, Federal Financial Accounting and
Auditing Technical Release Number 4, July 31, 1999, issued by the Accounting and Auditing
Policy Committee (AAPC), which is a permanent committee sponsored by the Federal
Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB).




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Ninety of the 140 drug items we reviewed for weight variances at the four
selected field offices had differences between weights recorded on
evidence labels and weights we observed when the items were reweighed
by evidence control personnel.23 The variances we observed ranged from
about 1 gram to 269 grams for the 24 items that were lighter when
reweighed, and ranged from about 1 gram to 3.9 kilograms for the 66 items
that were heavier. Although many of the variances involved only several
grams, we identified at least one item in each field office where the
observed weight was substantially less than the recorded weight.24 For
example, the weight recorded by DEA on the evidence label for seized
heroin, which was in the custody of the Miami Field Office, was 541.8
grams. However, the weight we observed was 273 grams, a shortage of
close to 50 percent from the DEA-recorded weight. While field office
personnel attributed this weight discrepancy to weight approximations and
packaging material, it did not appear that any packaging had been added or
taken away after DEA sealed the drug item, listed the gross weight after
analysis on the label, and returned it to the Miami Field Office.

FBI personnel experienced difficulty in attempting to explain weight
discrepancies for certain drug items we reviewed. For such items, a single
obvious cause of the weight variance was not evident, but multiple factors
that could influence the weight of an item were cited to explain the
difference. For example, the explanation for an observed shortage of about
13 grams of one drug item in the Miami Field Office included (1) the agent
inadvertently recorded the weight in error, (2) scales used by the agent may
not have been properly calibrated, and (3) the observed weight did not
include the packaging. While we could not validate or determine the extent
agent error or scale calibration affected the shortage, all of the items we
observed being weighed included packaging.




23
  Fourteen of the 140 drug items we observed being weighed did not have a weight recorded
on the item’s evidence label. Therefore, we could not determine whether there was a weight
variance between the observed weight and the recorded weight on the label for these 14
items.
24
 For each of these items, the observed shortage was over 50 grams, and these discrepancies
ranged from about 3 percent to about 50 percent of the recorded weight.




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Regarding packaging material, FBI policy requires drugs, along with the
original container, to be initially weighed after being placed in a plastic
evidence pouch. However, evidence control personnel stated that, in many
instances, this may not have been done. Rather, according to these
personnel, in such instances, the evidence was initially weighed without
the evidence pouch.25 Although there were cases where it appeared that the
weight discrepancy could have been caused by the weight of packaging
material, there were other cases for which all of the discrepancy could not
be explained by the weight of such material. In such cases, scale calibration
and/or dehydration or deterioration of the drug was often cited as a partial
explanation of the weight variance.

As mentioned earlier, many of the weight variances we identified involved
only several grams and these differences were often attributed by FBI
officials to scale calibration. FBI field office officials acknowledged that
the FBI does not have a policy regarding the calibration of scales, and
according to these officials, scales used to weigh drug evidence are not
frequently calibrated.26




25
     Evidence pouches are of different sizes and weights but typically weigh about 22 grams.
26
 DEA requires DEA field office management to ensure that scales used to weigh drugs are
calibrated at least annually.




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In addition, one drug item at the Miami Field Office had an observed weight
of 3.9 kilograms more than the FBI-recorded weight on the box.27
According to the description of the evidence, this item involved
approximately 11 kilograms of cocaine; however, the observed weight of
the box including the evidence was 14.9 kilograms. A Miami FBI official
told us that agents often record the amount of bulk drugs as the number of
kilo-sized bricks. By counting bricks rather than weighing the evidence, the
weight recorded is an estimate, that does not include the weight of
packaging materials, such as the wrappings on the individual bricks of the
drug and the box and tape used to seal the evidence.28 When seized drugs
are controlled based on estimated rather than actual weights, the FBI
cannot be assured that the entire quantity of drugs has been placed under
prescribed safeguards.

At the time of our review, FBI policy provided to us did not define a weight
variance threshold covering drug items in FBI custody. FBI policy requires
squad supervisors to prepare a memorandum of explanation when DEA
reports a variance of 1 percent or more between the initial weight of a drug
item submitted for testing by FBI personnel and the weight observed by
DEA upon receipt. However, we noted that once drug evidence was
packaged and the weight or amount was recorded on the evidence label,
there was no additional FBI requirement to validate the item’s weight
subsequent to initial weighing and prior to destruction.

In addition, prior to our review, there was no requirement for the weight of
a drug item to be recorded in the ACS system. However, as of November
1998, the ACS system was modified to include a mandatory data entry field
to capture drug weight. According to the FBI Evidence Program Manager,
the FBI had been developing this modification for about 9 months prior to
its implementation. Further, according to other FBI personnel, no official
policy for recording the weight of drug exhibits in the ACS system has been
written yet; however, FBI field offices have been informally advised to


27
     We did not observe a weight recorded on this drug item’s evidence label.
28
  FBI policy provides that bulk drug seizures, except those consisting of marijuana, must be
packaged in boxes or cartons and each box should be marked with the number of packages
it contains. According to the policy, entire bulk drug seizures, excluding marijuana, will be
submitted to the DEA laboratory, which will determine the exact weight of the drugs. For
bulk marijuana seizures, however, only a representative sample is submitted to the DEA
laboratory for weighing and analysis. The policy states that it is imperative that precise
weighing procedures are conducted and documented in bulk marijuana seizures because
enhanced penalties and mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines are weight-based.




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                  B-282211




                  enter the weight in the new drug field while formal policies on this point
                  are being completed.

                  Although the weight of drug items are now to be recorded in the ACS
                  system when the item is initially entered as evidence, there are no
                  procedures in place to systematically validate the weight of these items
                  while they are in FBI custody. For example, there is no requirement to
                  validate the weight of a drug item returned from DEA following analysis.
                  Further, there is no written requirement to update the ACS system with the
                  newly established DEA weight. In addition, drug evidence is not weighed as
                  part of typical FBI inventory or internal inspection procedures.
                  Consequently, although the weight of the drug item will be recorded in the
                  ACS system, it may not represent the most current weight recorded on the
                  item’s evidence label, which reduces the FBI’s accountability over such
                  drug evidence.



Conclusion        The FBI has established numerous policies and procedures to control and
                  safeguard drug and firearm evidence in its custody. However, based on our
                  work at the four FBI field offices and results of the FBI’s most recent
                  internal inspections of its field offices, specific actions are needed to
                  address concerns with certain physical safeguards over drugs and firearms
                  and strengthen accountability over such evidence. Such actions will help
                  reduce the potential for theft, misuse, or loss of drug and firearm evidence
                  and, therefore, the risk of evidence being compromised for federal
                  prosecution purposes while in FBI custody. Further, certain actions
                  pertaining to providing adequate ventilation for drug vaults and certifying
                  that firearms are rendered safe prior to storage will help ensure a safe and
                  healthy environment for FBI personnel.



Recommendations   We recommend that the Attorney General require that the Director of the
                  FBI take the appropriate steps to reinforce FBI field offices’ adherence to
                  existing FBI policies regarding

                  • handling and storage of drug evidence, including sealing drug items in
                    accordance with FBI policy using appropriate labeling procedures and
                    storing evidence in an orderly manner to avoid damage to stored items;
                  • adequate exterior ventilation being afforded to all drug vaults;




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• rendering firearms safe, including having a firearms instructor sign and
  date the certification on the chain of custody prior to evidence control
  personnel accepting the firearm for storage;
• written chain of custody forms always including a barcode number or
  case number and exhibit number; a signature; and the date, time, and
  reason for custody transfer of evidence from one party to another;
• Charge-Out Reports being prepared and reconciled at intervals required
  by policy;
• field office personnel, in accordance with requirements set forth in
  policy, preparing and sending written notification of bulk drug seizures
  to the U.S. Attorney within 5 workdays of the seizure, preparing and
  maintaining documentary evidence supporting the destruction of drug
  evidence, and taking adequate photographs of bulk seizures;
• drug and firearm evidence being entered into the ACS system within
  established time frames or, for evidence entered after the time frame
  allowed by FBI policy, proper documentation explaining that the late
  data entry was completed by evidence control personnel or agents and
  was reviewed by appropriate supervisory officials; and
• field office personnel weighing seized drugs in accordance with FBI
  policy, with the weight to include the original container and any
  packaging material used to seal the evidence.

We also recommend that the Attorney General require that the Director of
the FBI review actions taken by the New York Field Office to determine if
such actions will adequately alleviate the overcrowded conditions in the
drug vault; ensure that all drug items in storage are properly packaged,
sealed, and labeled; and ensure that the contents of the night depository are
routinely removed in accordance with FBI policy.

In addition, we recommend that the Attorney General require that the
Director of the FBI review existing policy to determine whether current
procedures for verifying evidence information entered into the ACS system
are adequate, or if the policy should be modified to include additional
procedures to enhance the FBI’s ability to detect and prevent data entry
errors.

Further, we recommend that the Attorney General require that the Director
of the FBI modify existing FBI policy to include

• a requirement to weigh all seized drugs, including bulk seizures, on
  properly calibrated scales;




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                      B-282211




                      • guidance establishing thresholds for defining significant weight
                        discrepancies of drug evidence;
                      • procedures for identifying and addressing such discrepancies; and
                      • guidance for updating records in the ACS system to reflect identified
                        changes in the weight of drug evidence.



Agency Comments and   In commenting on a draft of this report, the FBI stated that while the
                      information contained in the draft was, for the most part, factually
Our Evaluation        accurate, it did have some concerns about the report’s conclusions and
                      recommendations. The FBI also had concerns about the report’s focus that
                      are discussed in further detail in appendix II. Nevertheless, the FBI stated
                      that it plans or has already taken actions relating to four of our key
                      recommendations, namely, our recommendations to modify existing policy
                      related to the weighing of drug evidence, and our recommendation to
                      review actions taken by the New York Field Office to address various
                      internal control deficiencies.

                      The FBI stated that our recommendations to modify existing policy related
                      to the weighing of drug evidence were well-founded and discussed actions
                      that will be taken. Specifically, agents will be required to check the
                      recorded weight of all drug evidence retrieved from any laboratory to
                      identify any significant weight discrepancies from the original weight, and
                      that any discrepancies in weights that fall outside a normal expected range
                      resulting from testing procedures will be investigated and the results
                      documented in an investigative file. The FBI also concurred with our
                      recommendation regarding the calibration of scales and stated that it is
                      currently revising policy to require that all seized drugs, including bulk
                      seizures, be weighed on properly calibrated scales. While the FBI neither
                      concurred with or took exception to our recommendation to modify
                      existing policy to include guidance for updating records in the ACS system
                      to reflect identified changes in the weight of drug evidence, it is important
                      to note that, at the time of our review, there was no written requirement to
                      update the ACS system for any such changes. Consequently, the weight
                      recorded in the ACS system may not represent the most current weight
                      recorded on the item’s evidence label, thus reducing the FBI’s
                      accountability over such drug evidence.

                      The FBI stated that it has already taken action regarding our
                      recommendation to review steps performed by the New York Field Office
                      to address various internal control deficiencies. On September 2, 1999, we
                      provided our draft report, including recommendations, to the Department



                      Page 31                                GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
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of Justice for comment. According to the comments we received from the
FBI, the New York Field Office’s Evidence Program was reinspected in
September 1999, and that inspection found that the New York Field Office
had appropriately addressed the issues identified in the FBI’s previous
inspection. However, the FBI also stated that the inspectors issued
additional instructions to the New York Field Office to further assist the
office in ensuring full compliance with all evidence policies and
procedures. We were not provided specifics as to the results of the
September inspection; however, the FBI noted in its comments that the
field office had relocated the drug control room to a larger facility, had
resealed and repackaged every drug item, and addressed issues regarding
the night depository, all of which were included in our recommendation.

The FBI disagreed with our recommendation concerning the need to
reinforce adherence to certain existing FBI policies. The FBI stated that
recordkeeping issues we identified which were also found during its own
internal inspections do not, in the aggregate or otherwise, suggest
inadequate accountability over drug evidence given the overlapping
internal control procedures in place. The FBI also stated that it believes
that we used the findings identified during its own internal inspections to
extrapolate “systemic” inadequacies in the FBI’s Evidence Program,
regardless of the circumstance or materiality. The FBI emphasized that
maintaining appropriate physical safeguards and ensuring accountability is
an ongoing process as new policies and procedures are continually
implemented and new employees are continuously introduced to evidence
procedures.

We believe that our recommendation to reinforce FBI field offices’
adherence to certain existing FBI policies is valid. As stated in our report,
FBI policy requires the establishment of strict, documented accountability
for drug evidence because of the intrinsic value of such evidence. Several
of the issues discussed in this report, which we consider to be of a more
severe nature, involved deficiencies in accountability controls for drug
items at one or more of the locations we visited where we did not identify
overlapping controls that compensated for the deficiencies. For example,
during our review, we identified various deficiencies in required chain of
custody documentation at the four field offices, including the omission of
either the time or date of a custody change, the reason for the change, or
the current location or status of the drug evidence. Strict documentation on
the chain of custody is a key internal control over seized drugs and firearms
because custody of such evidence can change several times from seizure to
disposition and the document must be able to withstand defense challenges



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during judicial proceedings. In another example, we found that only one of
the four selected field offices had typically generated Charge-Out Reports
every 2 weeks as required by policy. Charge-Out reporting is an important
internal control procedure the FBI uses to routinely verify whether agents
who have custody of specific drug or firearm evidence need to continue to
hold the evidence or return it to storage. No overlapping control was
evident to us at any of the four selected field offices that could routinely
detect and/or prevent drug or firearm evidence from being inappropriately
maintained outside FBI storage facilities.

Further, as stated in our report, 13 of 44, and 10 of 44 FBI field office
internal inspection results we reviewed identified deficiencies in the chain
of custody and problems related to Charge-Out Reports, respectively.
Consequently, such deficiencies and problems are not isolated concerns
involving only a few field offices. The above noted findings along with the
fact that FBI, as stated in its comments to our report, is continuously
implementing new policies and introducing new employees to evidence
procedures and that such changes undoubtedly will cause some confusion
and noncompliance with operating standards, supports the need for
reinforcement of the existing FBI policies listed in our recommendation.

The FBI also stated that it does not concur with our recommendation to
review existing policy to determine whether current procedures for
verifying evidence information entered into the ACS system are adequate,
or if the policy should be modified to include additional procedures to
enhance the FBI’s ability to detect and prevent data entry errors. As noted
in the report, during our review, we identified 15 out of 229 drug or firearm
items at three FBI field offices that involved discrepancies between
information recorded in the ACS system and information on the written
chain of custody or the evidence label. In addition, 13 of the 44 internal
inspection results we reviewed also documented instances of incorrect
information in the ACS system. As such, a review of existing policies and
procedures concerning verifying information entered into the ACS system
is justified.


This report contains recommendations to you. The head of a federal agency
is required by 31 U.S.C. 720 to submit a written statement on actions taken
on these recommendations. You should submit your statement to the
Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on
Government Reform within 60 days of the date of this report. You must also
send a written statement to the House and Senate Committees on



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Appropriations with the agency’s first request for appropriations made over
60 days after the date of this report.

We are sending copies of this report to Senator Fred Thompson, Senator
Joseph Lieberman, Representative Dan Burton, Representative Henry A.
Waxman, Representative Stephen Horn, and Representative Jim Turner in
their capacities as Chair or Ranking Minority Member of Senate or House
Committees and Subcommittees. We are also sending copies of this report
to Louis J. Freeh, Director of the FBI; Robert L. Ashbaugh, Acting Inspector
General, Department of Justice; and the Honorable Jacob J. Lew, Director,
Office of Management and Budget. Copies will be made available to others
upon request.

If you have any questions regarding this report, please contact me at (202)
512-3406. Key contributors to this assignment were Kenneth Rupar, Linda
Sanders, and Ellen Wolfe.

Sincerely yours,




Gary T. Engel
Associate Director
Governmentwide Accounting and
 Financial Management Issues




Page 34                                GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
Page 35   GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
Appendix I

Scope and Methodology                                                                        Appendx
                                                                                                   Ii




             To accomplish our objectives, we interviewed officials from FBI
             headquarters and four selected field offices concerning the processes and
             procedures that are used to physically safeguard seized drugs and firearms
             and to account for such evidence completely and promptly. We requested
             all pertinent FBI policies and procedures and were provided and reviewed
             various sections from the FBI’s Manual of Administrative Operations and
             Procedures and Manual of Investigative Operations and Guidelines related
             to handling drug and firearm evidence. Based on discussions with FBI
             headquarters officials and a review of staffing levels for the 56 field offices,
             we selected two of the largest field offices−New York, New York and
             Miami, Florida−and two smaller sized offices−Dallas, Texas and San Diego,
             California−as locations to perform our work. According to FBI officials,
             due to the location and size of the field offices, each of them typically
             involves a significant volume of drug and firearm seizures.

             At each of the four field offices, we observed the location and condition of
             storage facilities and other physical safeguards including cameras, motion
             detectors, combination locks, and video monitors that the field offices had
             put into place to control access to and use of drug and firearm evidence.
             We also asked FBI personnel about the operation of the physical
             safeguards. However, due to the sensitive nature of the evidence, we did
             not perform any comprehensive tests to verify the operation of specific
             physical safeguards because we did not want to risk compromising any of
             the evidence that may be needed for prosecution purposes. Also, we did
             not perform security assessments of the interior of the drug vaults because
             FBI policy prohibits non-FBI personnel from entering the vaults beyond
             designated thresholds. However, we were able to accomplish our
             objectives because we could see most of the contents of the vaults from
             these thresholds.

             In addition, we performed specific tests on selected drug and firearm
             evidence items. To determine whether the four selected FBI field offices
             maintained adequate accountability for recently acquired drug and firearm
             evidence and properly safeguarded the evidence subsequent to seizure, we
             selected a random sample of drug and firearm items that each office
             entered into the FBI’s ACS system between October 1, 1997, and August 31,
             1998. Based on the size of the universe of drug and firearm items entered
             into the ACS system during this period, we statistically sampled the
             following number of cases at each location: New York−50 drug items and
             36 firearm items; Miami−46 drug items and 33 firearm items; Dallas−40 drug
             items and 24 firearm items; and San Diego−23 drug items and 20 firearm
             items. For selected items, our tests included determining whether (1) the



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Appendix I
Scope and Methodology




ACS system accurately recorded the description and location of the item,
(2) the chain of custody document was complete, and (3) for those items in
storage at the field office, the item was properly packaged, sealed, and
labeled. In addition, we judgmentally selected 10 of the drug items at each
location, observed evidence control personnel weigh each of the 10 items,
and compared the observed weight to the weight recorded by FBI or DEA
personnel on each item’s evidence label. For this procedure, we
judgmentally selected items that involved various types and amounts of
drugs.

To further test the field offices’ accountability for acquired drug and
firearm evidence, we obtained for each office a list of drugs and a list of
firearms in inventory as of or near the date of our visit. We selected 10
items from each drug and firearm inventory list and for each item verified
that it was in storage. We also selected 15 items from each of the drug
vaults and firearm storage areas and traced the items to the appropriate
inventory lists to verify that the items were recorded in a complete manner.
For each of these 25 drug items selected at each location, we also observed
FBI personnel weigh the item and compared the observed weight to the
weight recorded on the item’s evidence label. Each of the drug and firearm
items was judgmentally selected based on one or more of the following: the
length of time in storage, the type of evidence, and the specific location of
the evidence in the drug vault or evidence control room. We selected items
that had been in storage for long periods of time because of the inherent
risk associated with long-term storage. We also selected different types of
drug and firearm evidence, such as marijuana and cocaine, and handguns
and rifles, respectively. In addition, we selected drug and firearm items
from a variety of locations within each drug vault or evidence control
room.




Page 37                                GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
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Scope and Methodology




To determine if issues we identified at the four selected field offices are
indicative of more systemic concerns, we requested a copy of the section of
the most recent FBI Internal Inspection Report for each FBI field office
that covers procedures and internal controls over seized drugs and
firearms. FBI provided the results of Evidence Program Audits for 44 FBI
field offices. We reviewed these documents which detail deficiencies
identified during those offices’ most recent internal inspections.1 These
44 inspections were performed between June 1996 and June 1999. Because
we received the documents near the end of our fieldwork, we did not
follow-up with each of the field offices to determine the extent actions had
been taken to correct noted deficiencies.

We performed our work in accordance with generally accepted government
auditing standards from August 1998 through August 1999.

We requested written comments on a draft of this report from the Attorney
General or her designee. The Assistant Director for FBI’s Office of Public
and Congressional Affairs provided us with written comments, which are
discussed in the “Agency Comments and Our Evaluation” section and are
reprinted in appendix II.




1
 The FBI provided copies of (1) electronic communications sent to 41 field offices, and
(2) documentation that summarizes the inspection results for 3 other field offices which
detail deficiencies, and associated instructions and recommendations, related to drugs and
firearms that were identified by Evidence Program Audits conducted during recent internal
inspections. According to the FBI Chief Inspector, there were no evidence findings resulting
from the most recent inspections at the other 12 FBI field offices.




Page 38                                        GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
Appendix II

Comments From the Federal Bureau of
Investigation                                                                 Appendx
                                                                                    iI




Note: GAO comments
supplementing those in the
report text appear at the
end of this appendix.




See comment 1.




See comment 2.




See comment 3.




                             Page 39   GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
                 Appendix II
                 Comments From the Federal Bureau of
                 Investigation




See comment 1.




See comment 4.




See comment 5.




See comment 5.




                 Page 40                               GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
                 Appendix II
                 Comments From the Federal Bureau of
                 Investigation




See comment 6.




See comment 7.




See comment 8.




                 Page 41                               GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
                 Appendix II
                 Comments From the Federal Bureau of
                 Investigation




See comment 8.




See comment 9.




                 Page 42                               GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
                  Appendix II
                  Comments From the Federal Bureau of
                  Investigation




See comment 1.




See comment 10.




                  Page 43                               GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
                  Appendix II
                  Comments From the Federal Bureau of
                  Investigation




See comment 1.




See comment 11.
Now on p. 26.




                  Page 44                               GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
                  Appendix II
                  Comments From the Federal Bureau of
                  Investigation




See comment 12.
Now on p. 28.




See comment 4.




                  Page 45                               GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
                 Appendix II
                 Comments From the Federal Bureau of
                 Investigation




See comment 1.




See comment 1.




See comment 6.




See comment 1.




                 Page 46                               GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
               Appendix II
               Comments From the Federal Bureau of
               Investigation




               The following are GAO’s comments on the Federal Bureau of
               Investigation’s letter dated November 22, 1999.



GAO Comments   1. See “Agency Comments and Our Evaluation” section.

               2. In our notification letter to the Assistant Attorney General for
               Administration, dated July 31, 1998, informing him of our work, we stated
               that as part of our review of the status of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture
               Program, we were initiating a review of seized drugs and weapons at the
               FBI. We stated in the letter that the focus of the effort would be on controls
               over the seizure, storage, and disposition of drugs and weapons.

               During our initial meetings at FBI headquarters, FBI officials questioned
               the purpose and focus of our review, expressing the concern that the
               control of seized drugs and firearms at the FBI was a function of the
               Evidence Program rather than the Asset Forfeiture Program. At each of
               these meetings, we explained to FBI officials that seized property,
               including items such as drugs and firearms, is subject to forfeiture and we
               therefore would be considering such activity when updating our
               assessment of the Asset Forfeiture Program high-risk area. Recognizing
               this fact and that seized drugs and firearms typically remain in the custody
               of the seizing agency until approved for final disposition, effective controls
               over such evidence are needed to help ensure that such items are not
               compromised. Because the Evidence Program at the FBI is responsible for
               safeguarding and accounting for such evidence, it became the focal point of
               our work instead of the Asset Forfeiture Program.




               Page 47                                 GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
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Comments From the Federal Bureau of
Investigation




As stated in our report, Justice operations, including those at the FBI, often
involve the seizure, custody, and disposition of evidence that (1) may be
subject to forfeiture and (2) can remain in the seizing agency’s custody for
significant amounts of time due to long-term investigations. We also state in
our report that, as we reported in January 1999, although some
improvements have been made to the Asset Forfeiture Program operated
by Justice, significant problems remain and continued oversight is
necessary to ensure that policies and procedures are followed and that
adequate safeguards are in place.1 Our High-Risk Series of reports, which is
updated every 2 years and was most recently issued in January 1999, noted
that the federal government faces difficult problems managing a reported
$1.8 billion in property seized by Justice and the Department of the
Treasury as of September 30, 1997.2 We specifically stated that Justice had
reported that its asset forfeiture information systems had been inadequate
for tracking the life cycle of an asset from its seizure through its ultimate
disposition. We also noted that, in September 1998, the Justice Inspector
General reported that at most of the Immigration and Naturalization
Service Border Patrol stations his staff visited, they found problems with
the management of seized drugs. The High-Risk Series report, however, did
not include the specific issues concerning FBI seized drugs and firearms
identified in this report because we had not completed our fieldwork at the
time the High-Risk Series report was issued.

3. The FBI correctly noted that our review did not include an evaluation of
the internal review of the Evidence Program routinely conducted by the
FBI’s Office of Inspections, nor was there any review of the FBI’s follow-up
procedures to determine whether deficiencies identified during these
inspections had been fully addressed. The purpose of our review was to
identify and assess the FBI’s internal controls related to seized drugs and
firearms. As noted in our report, we used the results of the FBI’s internal
inspections to supplement our own findings and further illustrate that they
may be indicative of more systemic concerns.

In addition, we did not receive the internal inspection results for the
majority of the 56 FBI field offices until August 1999, which was near the
end of our fieldwork. Therefore, we did not follow-up with each of the field


1
 Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Justice
(GAO/OCG-99-10, January 1999).
2
High-Risk Series: An Update (GAO/HR-99-1, January 1999).




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Comments From the Federal Bureau of
Investigation




offices to determine the extent to which actions had been taken to correct
noted deficiencies.

4. The FBI stated that it feels our draft report materially overstates
potential weaknesses in internal controls over drug and firearm evidence,
and inappropriately concludes that there are risk factors affecting access
and accountability of drugs and firearms which simply do not exist. We
disagree. Our report does not address “potential” weaknesses in internal
controls, but rather reports on internal control deficiencies we found
during our review. Our conclusions are based on our observations and
findings as documented throughout this report.

The FBI’s statement that risk factors affecting access and accountability of
drugs and firearms simply do not exist at the FBI is not consistent with
other statements in its comments on this report as well as with the results
and its own characterization of its ongoing internal inspections.
Specifically, the FBI stated that in 1999, a policy was implemented to
require self-inspections by the field offices every 18 months, and the
Evidence Program is one of the areas to receive this additional scrutiny.
The FBI also states that this new review process was designed as an
additional detection system whereby field office management could more
effectively and promptly identify and resolve problems within their own
areas of responsibility.

In addition, the FBI states that it takes general exception to the overall
conclusion and tone of the report. We believe that our overall conclusion is
balanced and adequately supported by our findings that are documented
throughout the report. Our conclusion acknowledges that the FBI has
established numerous policies and procedures to control and safeguard
drug and firearm evidence, and we state that based on our work at the four
FBI field offices and the results of the FBI’s most recent internal
inspections of its field offices, specific actions are needed to address
concerns with certain physical safeguards over drugs and firearms and to
strengthen accountability over such evidence. The tone of the report is
neutral and objective, and in fact, we believe that some of the FBI’s
comments present a more negative picture of the control environment than
can be found in our report. For example, FBI’s comments state that the
New York Field Office was found to have material deficiencies in its
Evidence Program, and that mismanagement and inadequate training
produced a litany of serious deficiencies. Our report does not characterize
the deficiencies we identified as serious or material. Instead, our report
provides the observations we made during our visit to the New York Field



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Comments From the Federal Bureau of
Investigation




Office, states the reasons for the deficiencies noted and the corrective
actions taken according to New York Field Office officials, and
recommends that the FBI review these corrective actions.

5. We agree that the FBI shows determination to identify and correct
deficiencies in its own Evidence Program. As stated in the report, the FBI
has established numerous policies and procedures to control and safeguard
drug and firearm evidence in its custody, and as an added control over field
operations, each field office is supposed to receive an internal inspection
every 3 years. However, field office internal inspections performed on a
rotating basis every 3 years are not a substitute for ongoing initiatives to
keep accountability records current and accurate. Instead, inspections
serve as a barometer of the success of the FBI’s efforts to carry out its
policies and procedures on an ongoing basis. Therefore, in order to
strengthen physical safeguards and improve accountability, it is necessary
to reinforce adherence to the existing policy requirements we included in
our recommendation.

6. The FBI’s internal inspection findings are cited throughout our report to
supplement our own findings and illustrate that they may be indicative of
more systemic concerns. Although we did not identify any similar problems
at the four FBI field offices we visited, we thought it significant that 24 of
the 44 internal inspection results we reviewed documented one or more
physical safeguard concerns, including evidence control rooms with no
bureau-approved intrusion detection system, motion detector, or alarm;
inadequate locking systems; and instances of improper access including an
unauthorized employee accessing the evidence control room or an
evidence control technician having sole access to the evidence control
room. However, we did not include in our report any specific
recommendation to address these internal control deficiencies as identified
by the FBI’s internal inspections because these circumstances were not
evident at any of the four FBI field offices we visited. Further, the scope of
our review was designed primarily to determine whether weaknesses in
controls existed that increase the risk that evidence could be lost, stolen, or
misused or compromised for federal prosecution purposes. It was not our
intent to specifically determine whether the evidence had in fact been lost,
stolen, or misused or compromised.

7. The FBI states that overlapping controls and procedures have been
established to ensure adequate safeguards even if one or more of the
internal controls are lacking. We disagree. Although multiple controls have
been designed to safeguard the evidence, if one or more controls are not



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Appendix II
Comments From the Federal Bureau of
Investigation




effectively implemented, the FBI’s ability to safeguard evidence will be
diminished. As such, the FBI’s own internal inspection process requires all
identified deficiencies to be corrected. Each of the internal controls play an
important role in safeguarding evidence from inappropriate access, and we
did not identify any redundant controls to fully compensate for deficiencies
we cited in this report.

The FBI further states that in the cases cited from the internal inspection
findings, there was no indication that (1) evidence had been lost, stolen, or
misused; (2) any case was jeopardized because of chain of custody issues;
or (3) any evidence control rooms were without a locking system,
monitored by at least one surveillance camera, and/or entry was controlled
by dual access. We believe these statements are not accurate or are
misleading. First, as stated in our report, inspection auditors at the New
York Field Office had to discontinue efforts to complete a 100 percent
physical inventory of drug items due to time constraints, and at the time of
discontinuance, 79 of 1,625 drug items could not be physically located or
otherwise accounted for by evidence control personnel. Second, while we
agree that the internal inspection results we were provided did not mention
any case that was jeopardized because of chain of custody issues, we were
also not provided any documentation showing that this was an issue
considered or evaluated during the internal inspections. And third,
although no internal inspection findings cited instances of evidence control
rooms that had no locking system, seven inspections found inadequate
locking systems for evidence storage areas, including no keyless entry or
no dual locking system as required by FBI policy. In addition, as stated in
our report, seven inspections cited instances involving improper access to
evidence control rooms by FBI personnel, such as an unauthorized
employee accessing the evidence control room unaccompanied by the
evidence control technician, or an evidence control technician having sole
access to the drug and valuable evidence control room.

8. Our report states that at seven field offices not selected for our review,
inspection teams determined that access logs were either not used or were
not being properly completed by persons entering the evidence control
rooms. We did not report this as a programwide concern and, because we
did not identify this as an internal control deficiency at any of the four field
offices we visited, did not make a specific recommendation to address this
issue.

The FBI states that given the number of access logs that it maintains and
the sheer number of entries made into the logs, errors will be made. The



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Appendix II
Comments From the Federal Bureau of
Investigation




comments also note that there is no basis for suggesting that evidence is
tainted or that other items in the evidence control room are in jeopardy
merely because information is missing from access logs. They said that the
FBI compensates for such administrative lapses through overlapping
controls and procedures that enable responsible officials to maintain
accountability. We disagree. Complete and accurate information on access
logs is necessary to track persons entering evidence control areas to ensure
only those persons approved for access and with valid reason for access
are allowed to enter the secured areas and handle evidence. Not using or
properly completing access logs decreases the FBI’s ability to safeguard
evidence in its custody, and we did not identify any overlapping controls to
substitute for or diminish the importance of this internal control.

9. We recognize that the placement of drug items in storage boxes within
the evidence control room serves as a layer of protection against loss;
however, improperly sealed, wrapped, labeled, or stored drug items
diminish the FBI’s ability to protect the evidence against unauthorized
access. Similar to the two internal inspections that cited instances of
damaged or open storage boxes which allowed access to drugs, during our
review at one field office, we observed one drug evidence package that was
leaking and one bulk drug seizure comprised of approximately 50
kilograms of cocaine that had not been packaged or sealed in accordance
with FBI policy. Although the FBI purports that the absence of this
protection in some instances for a limited period of time hardly suggests
weaknesses in internal controls, this bulk drug seizure that we observed
was stored in two large seed bags in the same state in which it had been
acquired for over 1 year. A strict adherence to existing FBI policies
regarding sealing, labeling, and storing drug evidence will strengthen the
FBI’s ability to guard against the risk of loss, theft, or misuse of the
evidence.

10. Our primary objective in testing the controls over the safeguarding of
firearms was to determine whether control procedures existed and were
being followed. The scope of our testing did not include determining if the
firearms themselves were rendered safe. FBI policy requires firearms to be
examined and rendered safe by a firearms instructor prior to being
accepted for storage by evidence control personnel, with the firearms
instructor signing and dating a certification that this examination was
performed. During our review at the four FBI field offices, 18 of the
113 firearms selected for our sample did not fully comply with this policy.




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Appendix II
Comments From the Federal Bureau of
Investigation




Areas of noncompliance involved 3 firearms in storage that lacked
certification that the weapons had been rendered safe; 4 firearms that were
certified as rendered safe, but the certifications were dated after the date
the firearms had been accepted for storage; and 11 other firearms that had
been certified as rendered safe, but the certifications were not dated. These
examples of noncompliance form the basis for our recommendation that
the FBI reinforce adherence to existing FBI policies regarding rendering
firearms safe, including having a firearms instructor sign and date the
certification on the chain of custody prior to evidence control personnel
accepting the firearm for storage. The FBI’s comment that the basis for our
recommendation appears to stem from our findings in two offices related
to a total of three firearms that lacked required information on associated
chain of custody documents is incorrect. The particular examples cited in
the FBI’s comments are found in the report to document various
deficiencies in chain of custody documentation, not as examples of the
inadequate documentation certifying the examination and rendering safe of
firearms.

11. We do not agree that our recorded weight of a drug item at the Miami
Field Office was incorrect. We did not weigh the drug items ourselves.
Instead, we observed FBI personnel weigh the evidence and recorded the
results of their weighing activity. This process included two GAO personnel
observing an FBI official placing each drug item on a scale, repeating the
observed weight to the FBI official to obtain agreement, and one GAO
member recording the weight on a data collection instrument while the
other GAO member present reviewed the recorded information.

For one drug item at the Miami Field Office, the DEA recorded weight on
the evidence package was 541.8 grams, while the weight we observed was
273 grams. During our visit, we asked the field office officials to explain
this discrepancy. Their written response included that the weight variance
was the difference of the weight of the drug item sealed and the weight of
the item without packaging as recorded by DEA. However, during a
subsequent meeting involving these officials, we pointed out that the DEA
recorded weight on the drug item included packaging, so the explanation
provided was not reasonable. We were then told by an FBI official that the
weight of 541.8 grams may have been recorded in error by DEA. However,
other than the statement in the FBI’s comments to the report, we had not
been provided any additional explanation or documentation pertaining to
this weight discrepancy, and at no time was there any discussion that we
may have recorded the weight in error.




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                   Appendix II
                   Comments From the Federal Bureau of
                   Investigation




                   12. Another drug item we observed at the Miami Field Office consisted of a
                   sealed box that was marked as 11 kilograms and was described in the ACS
                   system as 11 kilograms. Our observed weight of this drug item was
                   14.9 kilograms; however, this weight was not recorded on the box or in the
                   description of the item found in the ACS system. As stated in our report,
                   according to a Miami FBI official, agents often record the amount of bulk
                   drugs as the number of kilo-sized bricks. By counting bricks rather than
                   weighing the evidence, the weight recorded is an estimate that also does
                   not include the weight of packaging materials, such as the wrappings on
                   the individual bricks of the drug and the box and tape used to seal the
                   evidence.

                   The FBI recognizes that referring to the size of a drug item rather than the
                   actual weight of the item may be problematic and that the term “package”
                   should be used in lieu of “kilogram” unless referring specifically to the
                   item’s weight, and we agree. However, we continue to believe that
                   recording estimated package sizes rather than actual weights diminishes
                   the FBI’s assurance that entire quantities of drugs are placed under
                   prescribed safeguards. The FBI’s concurrence with our recommendation to
                   modify existing policy to require that all seized drugs, including bulk
                   seizures, be weighed on properly calibrated scales will help to alleviate
                   potential problems associated with recording the number of packages
                   comprising a drug item rather than the actual weight of the evidence
                   including packaging.




(901785)   Leter   Page 54                                GAO/AIMD-00-18 Seized Drugs and Firearms
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