The United States Drug Enforcement Administration or DEA is a federal government agency of the United States that operates under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice and in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security, and the U.S. Border Patrol.
It is specifically a branch of the executive department and a law enforcement agency that is part of the overall national security initiatives of the U.S. government specifically responsible for leading the prevention of illegal drug trade.
Understanding the purpose and role of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency requires taking a look at its history and the legal basis and reasons why it was created, its general mission and specific roles and responsibilities, and its organizational and operational structure.
A Look Into the History, Mission, and Structure of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
History of the Organization: Legal Basis and Reasons for the Creation of DEA
Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1973 proposed the establishment of a specific federal agency with the primary task of enforcing federal laws relating to the policing of illegal or controlled substances. The plan also proposed the consolidation and coordination of different government activities relating to drug control.
Note that the U.S. federal government had been policing illegal and controlled substances based on numerous laws. These include the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, the Eighteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ratified in 1919, the Narcotics Drugs Import and Export Act of 1922, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the Boggs Act of 1956, and the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, among others.
The U.S. Congress endorsed Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1973 and President Richard Nixon signed it on 28 March 1973, thus becoming an executive order. Federal government agencies and offices such as the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement, and the Office of National Narcotics Intelligences, among others, were dissolved, reorganized, and merged to form the Drug Enforcement Administration or DEA. The formal operation of the new agency began on 1 July 1973 with a budget of USD 73 Million.
Official documents from DEA mentioned that its first few years marked several efforts aimed at establishing further its functions and mandates. In October 1973, for example, Administrator John. R. Bartels Jr. began working to consolidate some of the functions of the Bureau of Customs relating to drug control with the DEA. Employees from the Bureau of Customs and Customs Agency Service were subsequently moved to the new agency.
Furthermore, within the same year it was founded, DEA launched its Intelligence Program aimed at acquiring, analyzing, and updating relevant information related to drug law enforcement. The program was accompanied by two major elements: the Office of Intelligence at Headquarters and Regional Intelligence Units placed in domestic and international field offices.
The Drug Abuse Warning Network or DAWN was launched by DEA in 1974 to aid the federal government determine and assess the extent of drug abuse in the U.S. Other programs and sub-offices or units that were created under the agency were the National Training Institute, Special Testing and Research Laboratory, and the Aviation Program, among others.
Mission of the Organization: More Specific Roles and Responsibilities of DEA
Nonetheless, since its establishment in 1973, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has served as the primary federal government agency responsible for enforcing laws related to drug control. Its mission statement reads:
“To enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States and bring to the criminal and civil justice system of the United States, or any other competent jurisdiction, those organizations and principal members of organizations, involved in the growing, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances appearing in or destined for illicit traffic in the United States; and to recommend and support non-enforcement programs aimed at reducing the availability of illicit controlled substances on the domestic and international markets.”
The specific roles and responsibilities of the Drug Enforcement Administration are derived from the aforementioned organizational mission. Take note of the following:
• The investigation and preparation for the prosecution of violators of drug laws and criminals or drug gangs.
• Management of intelligence operations related to drug control is also part of its major function.
• The agency is also responsible for enforcing the Controlled Substance Act to oversee the policing of legally manufactured but regulated substances.
• Additional roles and responsibilities revolve around coordination and cooperation with federal and state government agencies and units, as well as international drug enforcement counterparts and other relevant international organizations such as the United Nations and Interpol.
The purpose behind the creation of the Drug Enforcement Administration fundamentally revolves around bringing suppliers of illegal and controlled substances to justice, conducting investigations, handling issues and concerns involving international drug trafficking, and advocating and promoting the prevention or discouragement of illegal and controlled substances both within the U.S. and across the international arena.
Structure of the Organization: Offices and Units Critical to the Operation of DEA
Remember that DEA is a federal law enforcement agency that operates under the greater mandate of the U.S. Department of Justice. This means that although it is an agency tasked to independently handle the enforcement of drug laws in the United States, it is not entirely autonomous because it remains within the supervision of a particular federal executive department similar to other federal law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations, United States Marshall Services, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
Understanding further the purpose or the specific roles and responsibilities of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration requires taking a look at its organizational structure, especially the offices and units critical to its operation. Take note of the following:
• Administration: An office composed of the Administrator and the Deputy Administrator in charge of overall leadership at DEA.
• Office of Administrative Law Judges: An auxiliary office in charge of conducting formal hearings in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act in connection with enforcement and regulatory cases brought by the DEA.
• Financial Management Division: Another auxiliary unit that includes subunits such as the Office of Acquisition and Relocations Management, Office of the Finance, and Office of Resource Management.
• Human Resource Division: An auxiliary unit that includes the Career Board, the Board of Professional Conduct, and the Office of Training in charge of managing the human resource requirements of DEA.
• Operational Support Division: A primary unit composed of specific auxiliary offices such as the Office of Administration, Office of Information System, Office of Forensic Science, and Office of Investigative Technology that collectively provide the required information infrastructure and technical or scientific services for DEA.
• Operations Division: Another primary unit in charge of all facets of law enforcement operations, specifically field missions. This unit is comprised of the Aviation Division, Office of Operations Management, Special Operatives Division, Office of Diversion Control, Office of Global Enforcement, and Office of Financial Operations.
• Intelligence Division: A primary unit in charge of gathering, analyzing, and updating data and information relevant to the operation of DEA. This unit is composed of the Office of the National Security Intelligence, Office of Strategic Intelligence, Office of Special Intelligence, El Paso Intelligence Center, and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Fusion Center.
• Inspection Division: Another primary unit in charge of inspection operations or investigative procedures directed toward the policing of DEA personnel and offices. It includes the Office of Inspections, Office of Security Programs, and Office of Professional Responsibility.