DEA Paid Amtrak Informant $850,000 For Information Available For Free, ‘Substantially Wasted Government Funds’

The Justice Department of the Inspector General has accused the DEA of “substantially” wasting government funds after it was revealed that the department paid an Amtrak informant $850,000 for information that was available for free. The Justice Department discovered that the DEA paid an informant who worked as an Amtrak secretary $850,000 over the course of 20 years for information that the department could have obtained for free by utilizing their existing partnership with the Amtrak police unit.

The Daily Mail reports that the Amtrak police force is part of a joint drug enforcement task force that works directly with the DEA. Therefore, the Justice Department ruled that spending $854,460 on an Amtrak informant for 20 years was a waste of government funds. The DEA paid the informant who was simply listed as an Amtrak secretary $43,000 a year to report any passengers who may have been smuggling drugs. The Justice Department says the fees to the informant were completely wasted as the DEA was allowed to access the “confidential passenger reservation information” at no cost.

The Amtrak informant wasn’t the only wasted funds found by the Justice Department. The DEA also agreed to pay an airport security worker to provide information that was also available for free to the department.

“The OIG also found that TSA security screeners are obligated to report to law enforcement suspected criminal activity that they observe in the course of their duties. Therefore, by registering a TSA security screener as a [confidential source], the DEA agreed to pay for information that the screener was already obligated to provide to law enforcement.”

The Inspector General was harsh on the department, noting that paying the Amtrak employee was indicative of “substantial waste in government funds” and that the payments violated federal regulations.

“The OIG determined that over a period of 20 years, the DEA paid the Amtrak employee $854,460 as of January 2014 for information that was available at no cost to the government in violation of federal regulations relating to the use of government property, thereby wasting substantial government funds.”

The office of Amtrak Inspector General Tom Howard says that he will not identify the Amtrak employee and has not given any information as to why the payments took so long to uncover as they had been made for 20 years. However, Howard did say that the department would be considering new measures that would “address control weaknesses.”

Amtrak noted that the secretary was violating company policy by giving the information to DEA officials without Amtrak management approval. However, the railroad company says they opted to allow the secretary to retire without incident rather than face disciplinary actions by the company.

“The Amtrak secretary was allowed to retire, rather than face administrative discipline, after the discovery that the employee had ‘regularly’ sold private passenger information since 1995 without Amtrak’s approval. “

Some politicians are concerned about the wasted DEA funds and say that incidents like the Amtrak secretary payments could raise questions about the department’s credibility and practices.

The full report summary by the Office of the Inspector General can be viewed here. As a result of the findings, the OIG is issuing an audit report of the department.

What do you think about the DEA paying over $850,000 for information that was readily available to them for free? Does the “substantial” waste of government funds surprise you?

[Image via AP Photo/Molly Riley]