The DEA agents had all the fun, now their boss is paying the price.


DEA administrator Michele Leonhart testifies before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in a hearing on sexual harassment and misconduct allegations at the DEA and FBI in Washington April 14, 2015. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

They partied with prostitutes and took expensive gifts, but it is the Drug Enforcement Administration chief whose head could roll, while some agents got off lightly.

A strong bipartisan majority of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has taken the unusual step of issuing a statement of “no confidence” in DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. President Obama nominated her for the job in 2010.

Her answers at Tuesday’s long and testy hearing before the Oversight Committee seriously disappointed its members. The next day they released a statement saying that “Leonhart has been woefully unable to change or positively influence the pervasive ‘good old boy’ culture that exists throughout the agency. From her testimony, it is clear that she lacks the authority and will to make the tough decisions required to hold those accountable who compromise national security and bring disgrace to their position. Ms. Leonhart has lost the confidence of this Committee to initiate the necessary reforms to restore the reputation of a vital agency.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest declined to say whether Obama has confidence in Leonhart, which probably means her days are short. “We do have concerns about what’s been reported by the Office of the Inspector General,” Earnest said. “We do have high expectations for those who serve this government and serve the American people.”

Here is some of what agents did according to DEA information provided by the Judiciary Committee:

• A DEA agent in Bogota, Colombia, a frequent patron of prostitutes, assaulted one in July 2009, leaving her bloody. A case was opened in 2010, and he was suspended for 14 days in 2012.

• In February 2010, a DEA employee solicited sex from an undercover police officer in the District. Three years later, he was suspended for eight days.

• DEA agents engaged in sex parties over several years with prostitutes provided by drug cartels, according to the committee. Among those who did not resign, punishments ranged from a letter of caution to a 10-day suspension.

The gifts included Rolex and Corum watches and Mont Blanc wallets and pens, according to a Judiciary Committee aide. Three agents allegedly were given money, expensive gifts and weapons from members of drug cartels, the Justice Department inspector general reported. An Oversight Committee summary of a DEA report, prepared by the Democratic staff, says one gift to an agent was an AK-47 assault rifle. All of this sounds like bribery, though the reports do not use that word.

The lack of authority cited by the Oversight Committee holds ramifications that go beyond the DEA. For a Congress that seems increasingly uncomfortable with the sometimes lengthy due process that must be followed to fire federal employees, the light punishments for DEA agents and Leonhart’s inability to discipline them is reason for Congress to act.

 “I can’t fire,” Leonhart said. “I can’t recommend a penalty. . . . I don’t have the authority to intervene in the disciplinary process.”

To some extent, the members of Congress seemed to hold her responsible for not exercising authority that Congress has not given her. Don’t be surprised if Congress moves to make it easier to fire not just DEA employees but also other federal employees, as it did last year with Department of Veterans Affairs Senior Executive Service members.

Read more in the Federal Diary.