- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

The Immigration and Naturalization Service billed the government nearly $7 million over a three-year period for agents the INS said were dedicated to drug cases but weren’t, and for other costs the INS cannot document, according to a report.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, in an audit commissioned by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, said the INS between 1999 and 2002 billed the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force $3.1 million for agents who worked on non-task-force matters and $3.6 million in unsupported costs that had been billed by the INS, now a part of Homeland Security, and paid.

The firm said 50 INS agents assigned yearly to the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force actually spent as much as 10.5 percent of their time on non-task-force issues — including what the INS called administrative tasks, emergency duty or “other special circumstances.”

According to the audit, released Tuesday, PricewaterhouseCoopers said some INS agents assigned to the task force reported more than 40 percent of their total investigative time went to non-task-force matters.

The firm also said INS officials failed to provide, as requested, monthly time sheets for a number of the task-force-assigned agents. It also said it was unable to test any salary and related benefit costs for 1997 and 1998 because the INS had destroyed task-force time sheets for those years.

“Furthermore, we were unable to complete our testing of the fiscal year 2002 other direct costs because the INS informed us that errors in calculating the amount of reimbursable costs were identified and were being corrected at the time this report was drafted,” according to the audit, released this week.

PricewaterhouseCoopers recommended that task-force Acting Director Catherine M. O’Neil take “appropriate remedies” to deal with the erroneous billing and establish a process by which she could require and obtain documentation for all billed costs.

Mrs. O’Neil, in an audit response, said the agency was aware of all of the questionable INS billings and would seek to “collect those amounts determined to be due and owing to the program.”

In March 2003, the INS was abolished and its functions, personnel, and equipment were transferred to the Department of Homeland Security.

The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force was created in 1982 to take advantage of multiagency cooperation and coordination to identify, investigate and prosecute criminal enterprises engaged in high-level drug trafficking and related enterprises.

In December 1986, the attorney general designated the INS as an task-force-program participant, requiring the agency to submit annual operating plans outlining how task-force funding was to be used. The task force the issued reimbursements based on those reports, including the time sheets.

In April 2000, the General Accounting Office began an investigation of the INS’s participation in antigang task forces in Los Angeles, including a review of whether task-force funds had been inappropriately used to support gang-related investigations. GAO found that seven INS agents had been reassigned to non-task-force cases and that the INS costs related to those agents were erroneously billed to the task force.

GAO also found that 67 percent of other direct costs billed to the task force did not relate to task-force investigations.

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