New Findings: DEA's Five-Year Record Is Off,
But DEA Appears Somewhat More Effective
Than FBI In Drug Enforcement

Justice Department performance data appear to indicate a moderate decline in the overall effectiveness of the Drug Enforcement Administration from 1992 to 1996, according to analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). At the same time, however, the analysis shows that the DEA has outperformed the FBI in the drug area during the same five year period.

Evidence concerning the decline in the DEA's enforcement effort included the following:

The volume of DEA referrals for prosecutions was also down during this same five-year period. However, the number of DEA criminal investigators also consistently declined from 1992 through 1995, only returning to its peak 1992 level by the end of fiscal year 1996.

Although TRAC's analysis of the Justice Department's year-to-year data indicated an erosion in the effectiveness of the DEA from 1992 to 1996, a second analysis of drug enforcement actions during the entire five-year period showed that the DEA was outperforming the FBI in the drug area.

This analysis examined the outcomes of the referrals made by the agencies under the government's two most frequently used drug statutes. Looking only at the matters disposed of where those statutes were the lead charges during the last five years, the DEA got the green light from prosecutors 81 percent of the time, compared with 75 percent of the time for the FBI. The DEA's 60 percent conviction rate also was a bit better than the 55 percent achieved by the FBI. While DEA investigations led to prison sentences 54 percent of the time, the FBI percent was 49. In only one significant area did the DEA not look measurably better than the FBI. In this comparison, again looking at the overall five year record, the median sentence for both agencies was exactly the same: sixty months.

Because current law severely limits the discretion of judges in setting prison sentences and because almost all convictions result from agreements between the prosecutors and the defendants, the gradual decline in median sentences from 1992 to 1996 is not thought to be the product of judicial whimsy. More significant, it is believed, is the quality of matters being presented by the DEA and how these matters are handled by federal prosecutors.

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Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
Copyright 1997