U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for storing and destroying illicit drugs seized by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) law enforcement pending prosecution and sentencing of violators by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Between fiscal years 2014 and 2019, marijuana seizures decreased while seizures for more toxic and hazardous drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines, and fentanyl increased.
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) at DHS audited CBP’s drug storage and destruction process following concerns about safety and security risks related to illicit drugs.
The audit found that CBP did not effectively store and destroy seized illicit drugs in its permanent vaults. Federal law requires CBP to destroy most seized drugs and retain samples as evidence to prosecute criminals. However, OIG found that 86 percent of illegal drugs CBP stored in its vaults were greater than allowed quantities. Specifically, CBP stored more than 400,000 pounds of dangerous and toxic drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines, and fentanyl that it should have destroyed.
In addition, CBP stored about 13,000 pounds of excess drugs for long periods — in some instances, for more than 20 years. OIG said this occurred because CBP routinely waived or circumvented its drug storage and destruction policies. As a result, CBP’s excessive and lengthy storage of large quantities of controlled substances created unnecessary safety and security risks. CBP also potentially incurred additional financial burdens to store, secure, inventory, manage, and process the excess drugs.
The audit also found that CBP officials further circumvented drug storage requirements by requesting that Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) laboratories return sample and bulk quantities combined as one package rather than two separate packages.
CBP said that OIG’s report contains inaccuracies and misleading representations. Most notably, CBP stated that the watchdog did not provide any specific instances or case numbers to support the overall conclusion so CBP could verify OIG’s findings. OIG responded that, during the audit, it provided all of the case numbers to the relevant CBP vaults to verify the quantities of drugs stored exceeding threshold amounts.
OIG has issued four recommendations to improve the management of CBP’s processes to store seized drugs in its permanent vaults:
- Ensure that requests to store drug amounts exceeding established thresholds are automatically denied and that an appeal letter accompany any waiver requests.
CBP concurred and said the Assistant U.S. Attorney appeal letter will be uploaded into the Seized Asset and Case Tracking System by April 30, 2021.
- Collaborate with drug seizing agents and testing laboratories to create an interagency agreement specifying that laboratories will return the threshold amount and the bulk drugs packaged separately so that CBP can destroy the bulk, or excess amount.
CBP concurred and will pursue an interagency agreement to have DEA laboratories return the threshold amount and bulk drugs packaged separately. CBP expects to action this by June 30, 2021.
- Develop additional controls to ensure case files are complete and contain all the required documentation to store excess drugs.
CBP concurred and acknowledges deficiencies in not having all the documents in the case files. CBP will implement new procedures for quarterly oversight reviews of seizure case files to ensure that all documents are in the case file by October 29, 2021.
- Analyze paper case files from FY 2013 and older to determine whether all the stored drugs are necessary as evidence and destroy excess quantities.
CBP concurred and said it will analyze FY 2013 and older case files, and create a quarterly status report to monitor progress by July 30, 2021.