DEA Employees Fail Drug Tests, Shockingly Face No Serious Consequences

New documents reveal lax discipline at the agency.
DEA agents have received only short suspensions for failing drug tests, new documents show.
DEA agents have received only short suspensions for failing drug tests, new documents show.
John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

A number of federal employees with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration have failed drug tests over the past five years, only to receive short suspensions or other minor reprimands, newly released documents reveal.

According to a Huffington Post review of internal DEA discipline logs, first uncovered by USA Today over the weekend, there have been at least 16 reported instances of employees failing random drug tests since 2010. While a number of these incidents were handled administratively, with a few people choosing to resign or retire amid the proceedings, none of the cases ended in an employee's outright firing. The agency punished most employees with short suspensions, sometimes as little as one or two days.

The DEA's drug policy states that applicants who "experimented with or used narcotics or dangerous drugs, except those medically prescribed for you, will not be considered for employment," though it makes exceptions for "limited youthful and experimental use of marijuana." The agency conducts random drug testing throughout an employee's career.

The discovery comes amid broader findings of routine misconduct and paltry disciplinary action at the DEA.

USA Today reporters Brad Heath and Meghan Hoyer found that, from 2010 through 2015, DEA employees have avoided getting fired despite serious violations of agency policy, including distribution of drugs, falsifying official records and having an “improper association with a criminal element.” And in the few cases in which administrators did recommend termination, the DEA's Board of Professional Conduct often reduced sanctions to suspensions or lower forms of discipline and even required the agency to rehire problem employees.

Carl Pike, a former DEA internal affairs investigator who went on to lead the agency's Special Operations Division for the Americas before retiring in December, explained to USA Today that it was incredibly rare for someone to get fired for misconduct.

“If we conducted an investigation, and an employee actually got terminated, I was surprised,” he said. “I was truly, truly surprised. Like, wow, the system actually got this guy.”

Indeed, a closer look at the internal log turns up numerous examples of disturbing behavior being punished with suspensions of a few days, at most. From 2010 through 2015, HuffPost found 62 instances of an employee losing or stealing a firearm; more than 30 violations for driving while intoxicated, including four while driving a government-owned vehicle and one that involved a hit-and-run; two occasions in which employees deprived individuals of their civil rights; nine instances of employees losing or stealing drug evidence; 10 cases in which agents lost or stole a defendant's property; four violations for committing fraud against the government, two of which were punished by a letter of caution; and two more general violations of DEA policy on drug use. The DEA didn't fire anyone as a direct result of these actions.

The DEA has faced intense scrutiny for its handling of discipline in the wake of a string of high-profile scandals at the agency. The criticism came to a head earlier this year with the revelation that agents stationed abroad attended cartel-funded sex parties involving prostitutes.

According to a report from the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General at the time, the seven DEA agents who admitted to attending the events were punished with suspensions, ranging from two to 10 days. Former DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, who resigned shortly after the scandal, also admitted that some of the agents were in fact promoted sometime between the sex parties and the end of the investigation.

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