Drug Control: Customs Can Do More To Prevent Drug-Related Employee Corruption

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-05-25.

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

                     United States General Accounting Office

GAO                  Testimony
                     Before the Finance Committee
                     U.S. Senate

Not to be Released
10:00 a.m. EDT
                     DRUG CONTROL
May 25, 1999

                     Customs Can Do More
                     To Prevent Drug-Related
                     Employee Corruption
                     Statement for the Record by
                     Richard M. Stana
                     Associate Director, Administration of Justice Issues
                     General Government Division


Drug Control: Customs Can Do More To
Prevent Drug-Related Employee Corruption

               Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

               I am pleased to submit this statement to assist in your oversight of the U.S.
               Customs Service. You asked us to discuss work we have done on the U.S.
               Customs Service’s efforts to combat drug-related corruption. Corruption
               of Customs employees along the Southwest Border by persons involved in
               the illegal drug trade is a serious and continuing threat. The enormous
               sums of money being generated by drug trafficking have increased the
               threat of bribery. It is a challenge that Customs and other law enforcement
               agencies must overcome at the border.
               My statement today is based on a report we issued on March 30, 1999, and
               follow-up testimony we delivered on April 21, 1999, before the Senate
               Caucus on International Narcotics Control. It focuses on (1) the extent to
               which Customs has complied with policies and procedures for ensuring
               employee integrity; (2) an identification of the types of illegal drug-related
               activities of which Customs employees on the Southwest Border have
               been convicted; (3) an identification of the Department of the Treasury’s
               organizational structures, policies, and procedures for handling allegations
               of drug-related employee misconduct and whether the policies and
               procedures were followed; and (4) the extent to which lessons learned
               from corruption cases closed in fiscal years 1992 through 1997 have led to
               changes in policies and procedures for preventing the drug-related
               corruption of Customs employees.

               We make the following points in this statement:

             • Customs’ compliance with its integrity procedures varied.

             • Customs’ compliance with its investigative procedures was uncertain.

             • Customs missed opportunities to learn lessons from closed corruption
               In our report, we made recommendations to address these points.

                Drug Control: INS and Customs Can Do More To Prevent Drug-Related Employee Corruption
                Drug Control: INS and Customs Can Do More To Prevent Drug-Related Employee Corruption
                   If employees entered guilty pleas, we considered them to have been convicted of the crime.

               Page 1                                                                             GAO/T-GGD-99-106
                          Drug Control: Customs Can Do More To Prevent Drug-Related Employee Corruption

                          Stretching 1,962 miles from Brownsville, TX, to Imperial Beach, CA, the
Background                Southwest Border has been a long-standing transit area for illegal drugs
                          entering the United States. According to the Department of State, the
                          Southwest Border is the principal transit route for cocaine, marijuana, and
                          methamphetamine entering the United States. Customs is one of the
                          principal agencies responsible for stopping and seizing illegal drug
                          shipments across the Southwest Border. At the ports of entry, about 2,000
                          Customs inspectors are to check incoming traffic to identify both persons
                          and contraband, including illegal drugs, that are not allowed to enter the

                          The threat of corruption of Customs employees is not a new phenomenon,
                          and the 1990s have seen congressional emphasis on ensuring employee
                          integrity and preventing corruption. A corrupt Customs employee at a port
                          of entry can facilitate the safe passage of illegal drug shipments. The
                          integrity policies and procedures adopted by Customs are designed to help
                          ensure that its employees, especially those in positions that could affect
                          the smuggling of illegal drugs into the United States, are of acceptable
                          integrity and, failing that, to detect any corruption as quickly as possible.

                          Customs has policies and procedures designed to help ensure the integrity
Summary of Findings       of its employees. However, Customs’ compliance with these policies and
                          procedures has varied. The policies and procedures consist mainly of
                          mandatory background investigations for new staff and 5-year
                          reinvestigations of employees, as well as basic integrity training. While
                          Customs generally completed required background investigations for new
                          hires by the end of their first year on the job, reinvestigations were
                          typically overdue, in some instances by as many as 3 years. Customs
                          provided integrity training to new employees during basic training, but
                          advanced integrity training was not required.

                          Customs had not formally evaluated its integrity procedures to determine
                          their effectiveness. One way to evaluate the effectiveness of integrity
                          procedures would be to use drug-related investigative case information.
                          For example, among employees assigned to the Southwest Border, nine
                          were convicted of drug-related crimes during fiscal years 1992 through
                          1997. These nine employees engaged in one or more illegal drug-related
                          activities, including

                      •   waving drug-laden vehicles through ports of entry,
                      •   coordinating the movement of drugs across the Southwest Border,
                      •   selling drugs, and
                      •   disclosing drug intelligence information.

                          Page 2                                                            GAO/T-GGD-99-106
                  Drug Control: Customs Can Do More To Prevent Drug-Related Employee Corruption

                  The nine convicted employees received background investigations or
                  reinvestigations that determined they were suitable for employment and
                  had the required integrity. However, based on our review of the case files,
                  the financial information that these employees provided during their
                  background investigations and reinvestigations was not fully used by
                  Customs. According to a Customs official, reported liabilities are to be
                  compared with debts listed on a credit report to determine if all debts were
                  reported. This use of the financial information would not have helped to
                  identify employees who were living well beyond their means or whose
                  debts were excessive.

                  The Treasury has established procedures for handling allegations of
                  employee misconduct. Within the Treasury, Customs’ Office of Internal
                  Affairs is generally responsible for investigating both criminal and
                  noncriminal allegations against Customs employees. We could not readily
                  determine if the Office of Internal Affairs complied with the investigative
                  procedures because Customs’ automated case management system and its
                  investigative case files did not provide the necessary information to assess
                  compliance with these procedures.

                  Customs has missed opportunities to (1) learn lessons from drug-related
                  corruption cases and (2) change its policies and procedures for preventing
                  drug-related employee corruption. Our review of the closed cases of the
                  nine convicted employees revealed internal control weaknesses that were
                  not formally reported by the Office of Internal Affairs, even though
                  Customs procedures require them to formally report internal control
                  weaknesses identified during investigations. These weaknesses included
                  instances where (1) drug smugglers chose the inspection lane at a port of
                  entry, (2) Customs employees did not recuse themselves from inspecting
                  individuals with whom they had close personal relationships, and (3) law
                  enforcement personnel were allowed to cross the Southwest Border
                  without inspection. At the time of our review, we found that Customs had
                  not corrected these internal control weaknesses, and we therefore made
                  recommendations in our report to address them.

                  Because of the enormous sums of money being generated by drug
Recommendations   trafficking and the corruption of some Customs employees, Customs is
                  vulnerable to the threat of corruption. Therefore, we recommended that
                  the Secretary of the Treasury


                  Page 3                                                            GAO/T-GGD-99-106
  Drug Control: Customs Can Do More To Prevent Drug-Related Employee Corruption

• direct the Commissioner of Customs to evaluate the effectiveness of
  integrity assurance efforts, including training, background investigations,
  and reinvestigations;

• require the Commissioner of Customs to comply with policies that require
  employment reinvestigations to be completed when they are due;

• require that Customs fully review financial disclosure statements, which
  employees are required to provide as part of the background investigation
  or reinvestigation process, to identify possible financial irregularities, such
  as employees who appear to be living beyond their means;

• require the Commissioner of Customs to document that policies and
  procedures were reviewed to identify internal control weaknesses in cases
  where a Customs employee was determined to have engaged in drug-
  related criminal activities; and

• direct the Commissioner of Customs to strengthen internal controls at
  Southwest Border ports of entry by establishing (1) one or more methods
  to deprive drivers of their choice of inspection lanes; (2) a recusal policy
  concerning the performance of inspections by Customs inspectors where
  their objectivity may be in question; and (3) a policy for inspection of law
  enforcement officers and their vehicles.

  The Department of the Treasury provided comments from Customs that
  generally concurred with our recommendations and indicated that it is
  taking steps to implement them.

  Page 4                                                            GAO/T-GGD-99-106
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