The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has paid out untold millions of dollars in federal workers' compensation benefits with no legal basis to the families of killed or injured confidential informants, according to a Justice Department Inspector General report released Tuesday.
An audit by the Inspector General found the DEA paid out more than $1 million in 2013 alone in Federal Employees' Compensation Act benefits to 17 confidential sources.
In one case, the Inspector General wrote, the DEA paid out more than $1.3 million between 1989 and 2012 to the widow of a killed informant. Payments have been ongoing in other cases since 1974.
How much money the DEA has paid out over the years in the benefits to confidential informants and their families is unknown, because the Justice Department and Department of Labor do not track the payments.
"Although the exact amount of DEA confidential source (benefit) payments is unknown, it is clear that significant taxpayer dollars have been expended," the Justice Department Inspector General wrote.
In addition, the Inspector General says there is no legal basis for extending compensation benefits intended for federal employees to confidential informants.
The law cited by the DEA as justification for the payments, the Inspector General wrote, "does not provide a legal basis for the DEA's position that its confidential sources were appropriately categorized as non-federal law enforcement officers eligible for FECA benefits."
In a statement, a Justice Department spokesperson said the DEA "has placed a moratorium on submitting new FECA claims for confidential sources to the Department of Labor."
"DEA has also determined that, although a determination should be based on the facts of each individual case, the presumption should be confidential sources are not 'employees' pursuant to FECA and should not be eligible for benefits," the spokesperson said.
The Inspector General also reported that its investigation into the DEA's confidential informant program has been obstructed by the agency.
"Our audit work thus far has been seriously delayed by numerous instances of uncooperativeness from the DEA, including attempts to prohibit the OIG's observation of confidential source file reviews and delays, for months at a time, in providing the OIG with requested confidential source information and documentation," the Inspector General wrote. "In each instance, the matters were resolved only after the Inspector General elevated them to the DEA Administrator."