Gun, Computer Losses Plague DEA

Problems with the Drug Enforcement Administration's tracking of weapons and laptop computers have persisted during the past five years, despite steps taken to correct shortcomings noted in a 2002 audit, a Justice Department report out Friday concluded.

"We determined that the DEA has made improvements to its internal controls over weapons and laptop computers since our 2002 audit, such as conducting physical inventories and reconciling these inventories to its financial system records," the department's inspector general, Glenn Fine, said in a statement.

"However, we concluded that the DEA still requires significant improvement in its overall controls on weapons and laptops," Fine said

Fine said auditors found the DEA has lost track of 91 weapons and lost 231 laptop computers during the past five years.

The report noted that 82 handguns, five shotguns, two rifles and two submachine guns were missing or lost. Forty-four of 69 stolen weapons had been taken from agents' vehicles.

The report found a recurring violation of DEA policy, saying "DEA-issued and authorized personally owned pistols may not be left unattended or temporarily stored in an official government or privately owned vehicle."

In one instance, on April 25, 2006, a DEA agent left a weapon behind at a supermarket. As a result, the agent was suspended for five days.

In addition to the lost weapons, the report found similarly troubling treatment of the DEA's laptops. The losses ranged from employees leaving computers in taxis to laptops being pilfered from luggage.

"The DEA is unable to provide any assurance that the lost or stolen laptops did not contain sensitive information," Fine noted in the report.

According to the review, many of the computers were not password protected, because the DEA did not begin installing such software until November 2006.

"Of the 79 unencrypted laptops, we identified at least five that contained sensitive or personally identifiable information," the report said.

In response to the report, DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said, "DEA has made significant improvements in its rate of loss for laptops. In those instances where weapons were lost or stolen, appropriate disciplinary actions were taken by DEA."