Border Security: CBP Has Taken Actions to Help Ensure Timely and Accurate Field Testing of Suspected Illicit Drugs

What GAO Found

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has policies and procedures for its officers and agents to test substances that they suspect are illicit drugs—referred to as a presumptive field test. Field officials that GAO spoke with said these policies and procedures provide sufficient guidance for conducting presumptive field testing. The policies and procedures address various topics, such as approved and recommended types of test equipment, use of the equipment, training, and requirements for documenting illicit drug seizures. They also address laboratory confirmation of field test results (confirmatory testing), which U.S. Attorney’s Offices require for federal prosecution.

GAO found that CBP’s Office of Field Operations and U.S. Border Patrol conducted at least 90,000 presumptive field tests associated with an arrest from fiscal year 2015 through 2020. The average time for CBP to complete confirmatory testing across its labs decreased from 100 days in calendar year 2015 to 53 days in calendar year 2020, as of September 2020. This occurred while the total number of requests for confirmatory testing increased from about 4,600 in calendar year 2015 to about 5,600 in calendar year 2020, as of September 2020. With regard to accuracy, CBP officials have taken initial steps to upgrade the software system used to document confirmatory test results. This should provide CBP with information on the extent to which presumptive field test results align with confirmatory test results.

Average Time to Complete Confirmatory Testing and Number of Requests for Confirmatory Testing Processed Across all U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Laboratories, Calendar Year 2015 through September 24, 2020

CBP has taken a number of actions to help ensure timely and accurate field drug testing, including:

  • Identifying, testing, and deploying test equipment. For example, CBP tested multiple types of chemical screening devices to determine their performance and capabilities to detect fentanyl at low purity levels.
  • Enhancing presumptive and confirmatory field testing capabilities by building permanent onsite labs and deploying mobile labs in certain field locations.
  • Providing round-the-clock access to chemists who help interpret presumptive field test results.

Why GAO Did This Study

Within the Department of Homeland Security, CBP reported seizing approximately 830,000 pounds of drugs in fiscal year 2020. When CBP officers and agents encounter suspected illicit drugs, they conduct a presumptive field test. A positive test result is one factor CBP uses to establish probable cause for an arrest or seizure. GAO was asked to review issues related to CBP’s field drug testing.

This report examines (1) CBP’s policies and procedures for testing suspected illicit drugs in the field; (2) available data on CBP’s field drug testing; and (3) CBP’s efforts to help ensure timely and accurate test results.

GAO analyzed CBP data on presumptive field testing and laboratory confirmation of results from fiscal year 2015 through 2020; reviewed related policies and procedures; and interviewed CBP officials in five states at land, air, and sea ports of entry, Border Patrol stations and checkpoints, and CBP labs. GAO selected these locations to include varying levels of drug seizures, among other factors.

For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or gamblerr@gao.gov.

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    According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) data, the number of substance use disorder (SUD) treatment facilities and services increased since 2009. However, potential gaps in treatment capacity remain. For example, SAMHSA data show that, as of May 2020, most counties did not have all levels of SUD treatment available, including outpatient, residential, and hospital inpatient services; nearly one-third of counties had no levels of treatment available. Stakeholders GAO interviewed said it is important to have access to each level for treating individuals with varying SUD severity. Availability of Substance Use Disorder Treatment Levels, by County, as of May 2020 SAMHSA primarily relies on the number of individuals served to assess the effect of three of its largest grant programs on access to SUD treatment and recovery support services. However, GAO found the agency lacks two elements of reliable data—that they be consistent and relevant—for the number of individuals served under the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant (SABG) program. For example, grantee reporting includes individuals served outside of the program, which limits this measure's relevance for program assessment of access. SAMHSA plans to implement data quality improvements for the SABG program starting in fiscal year 2021. However, the agency has not identified specific changes needed to improve the information it collects on individuals served. As SAMHSA moves forward with its plans, it will be important for it to identify and implement such changes. Doing so will allow SAMHSA to better assess whether the SABG program is achieving a key goal of improving access to SUD treatment and recovery services or whether changes may be needed. Treatment for SUD—the recurrent use of substances, such as illicit drugs, causing significant impairment—can help individuals reduce or stop substance use and improve their quality of life. SUDs, and in particular drug misuse, have been a persistent and long-standing public health issue in the United States. Senate Report 115-289 contains a provision for GAO to review SUD treatment capacity. This report, among other things, describes what is known about SUD treatment facilities, services, and overall capacity; and examines the information SAMHSA uses to assess the effect of three grant programs on access to SUD treatment. GAO analyzed national SAMHSA data on SUD treatment facilities and providers, and reviewed studies that assessed treatment capacity. GAO also reviewed documentation for three of SAMHSA's largest grant programs available to states, and compared the agency's grant data quality to federal internal control standards. Finally, GAO interviewed SAMHSA officials and stakeholders, including provider groups. GAO is recommending that SAMHSA identify and implement changes to the SABG program's data collection efforts to improve two elements of reliability—the consistency and relevance—of data collected on individuals served. SAMHSA concurred with this recommendation. For more information, contact Alyssa M. Hundrup at (202) 512-7114 or HundrupA@gao.gov.
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  • Vermont Man Charged with Hiring Person to Kidnap and Kill a Man in a Foreign Country, and Producing and Receiving Child Pornography
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in the District of Vermont returned a third superseding indictment today against a Burlington man for conspiring to kidnap and kill a man in a foreign country, murder for hire, and five child pornography offenses.
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  • Albania National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Justice Department Charges 500+ Domestic Violence-Related Firearm Cases in Fiscal Year 2020
    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice announced it has charged more than 500 domestic violence cases involving firearms during Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. A department priority since 2019 when Attorney General William P. Barr created the Department of Justice’s first ever-Domestic Violence Working Group, these charges are the result of the critical law enforcement partnership between United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, led by Acting Director Regina Lombardo, who has made domestic violence firearms-related investigations a priority.
    [Read More…]
  • California Man Arrested for $3.6 Million PPP and EIDL Loan Fraud
    In Crime News
    A California man was arrested Thursday on criminal charges related to his alleged scheming to submit fraudulent loan applications seeking millions of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) COVID-19 relief funds.
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  • Russian Influence in the Mediterranean
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Senior Administration Officials Preview of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s Trip to Anchorage, Alaska
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • The United States Has Repatriated 27 Americans from Syria and Iraq Including Ten Charged with Terrorism-Related Offenses for Their Support to ISIS
    In Crime News
    The International [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken at Bastille Day Celebration
    In Crime Control and Security News
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