Doing Business With the Drug Enforcement Administration

General info: DEA<@VM>The CIO file: William Simpkins

Things to note

I like the DEA Web site; it has a nice, logical feel to its presentation. Right on the homepage under "DEA Resources" is a link "For Contractors". That may not sound like much, but I'm surprised at how hard it can be to find this information on some Web sites. This will take you to a Web site for the Office of Acquisition Management, which explains how the agency works with contractors, especially small businesses and 8(a)s.

Something different: The Drug Enforcement Administration Museum and Visitor Center in Arlington, Va.. Among the exhibits: "DEA: Air, Land and Sea," which shows, among other things, how drag racing cars are being used in enforcement.

2401 Jefferson Davis Highway

Alexandria, VA 22301

(202) 307-1000

Founded: July 1, 1973

Administrator: Karen Tandy

Employees: 9,629, of which almost 4,700 are special agents

What it does: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) enforces the laws and regulations governing the use of illegal drugs and other controlled substances, and prosecutes those who grow, manufacture or distribute these substances.

Among its responsibilities, the DEA investigates and prepares prosecution of violators; works with all levels of government to enforce a drug intelligence program, as well as on non-enforcement methods, such as crop eradication and training foreign officials; seizes and forfeits the assets from illicit drug trafficking.

Under policy guidance from the State Department and U.S. ambassadors, DEA is responsible for programs of its drug law enforcement counterparts in foreign countries.

Major subagencies:

None. DEA is part of Justice Department.

Number crunching

2004 budget: $1.7 billion
2003 budget: $1.9 billion
2002 budget: $1.8 billion

The fiscal 2005 budget request adds $35 million to DEA for an additional 100 special agents, and $14 million for training and infrastructure funding.

William Simpkins, CIO of the Drug Enforcement Agency

Courtesy of the Drug Enforcement Administration

Full title: Assistant administrator for operational support and chief information officer

Took the job: January 1999

Hometown: Tewksbury, Mass.

Home now: Crofton, Md.

Family: Wife, who is also a DEA special agent assigned to the Baltimore District Office. Daughter Meredith, 10; son Brendan, 8. Two older children, four grandchildren.

Hobbies: Enjoys boating and golf. Has a 21-foot Mako open fisherman and often goes across the Chesapeake Bay on weekends with the kids and visits places in Maryland such as Tilghman Island, St. Michaels and Oxford.

Currently reading: "Sick Puppy" by Carl Hiaasen, a friend who also is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Alma mater: Bachelor of science in business administration with marketing, Boston College. Served in Army from 1969 to 1971, then enrolled at Northeastern University. Received an associate's degree in law enforcement in 1972.

WT: How has technology changed what your agency does?

Simpkins: Technology has made an enormous impact on what and how DEA accomplishes its mission. Information systems have made every special agent, intelligence analyst, diversion investigator and task force officer more effective. With a global mission and only 4,700 special agents, we would not be as successful as we are today if all cases had to be made with the tools I learned as a new agent 30 years ago.

When I came to DEA in 1974, the investigative record process was made up of index cards in every office. Official case reports were typed by a secretary on a multicopy form maintained at each office with a headquarter's copy sent through the mail to the central file room and to any other field offices that might have an interest in the investigation.

Clearly, from the agent's perspective, there were significant barriers to relating investigative and case information to other investigations or to achieving a broader investigative perspective using technology. The predominant IT tools available at that time were electric typewriters and index cards.

We at DEA, and in law enforcement in general, have been able to use technology in many different and important ways to improve our operations. A fine example of technology that has changed the way we do business is our case management system.

The new system, with electronic fingerprint and photo tracking, automates all of the required reporting involved in cases. The information is more accurate and is disseminated more quickly. Perhaps most important, though, is that agents spend less time making paper and more time making cases.

In just the last few years, DEA has made huge advances in modernizing our legacy systems. The current program, called Concorde, will combine the data from 90 or so stovepipe systems and, with the use of data warehousing and Web technologies, will be available to all of our investigators and analysts worldwide.

We are not just updating technology here; we are looking at our business, our processes and making the most out of the data and information we have. DEA is in a unique position with our primary focus on drug law enforcement.

WT: What are your biggest tech issues at the moment? Wireless? Patch Management? Security?

Simpkins: Information security is of major importance. It is an issue we take very seriously, and like many other IT-related issues, it is centered more around policy and process, and ? yes ? funding. Most of our data isn't classified, but we tend to treat it as more sensitive than even the way commercial banks handle billions of dollars in electronic transactions.

An example of changing a process to improve our IT posture is using a lease procurement model for our commodity desktop hardware. The funding requirement is leveled. Another solution we have successfully employed is to push our telecommunications toward a utility model where the government buys a managed service, not each piece of hardware. This philosophy has turned into a Justice Department unified network, one of the department CIO's crosscutting initiatives. I have been particularly pleased with DEA's collaborative effort with the department on this effort.

We let the experts manage the technology, and put our government employees to more effective use. We are putting the government in the driver's seat by training the staff to be project managers and not commodity techies. In fact, over the past two years, we have trained and certified 92 government staff as project managers.

We at DEA want to continue to drive technology into the hands of our customer work force. Whether that means wireless hand-held devices to improve agent safety on a surveillance, or improved data mining capabilities of our valuable information, DEA needs to leverage our comparatively small work force.

The 9,600 employees of DEA are stretched to cover a worldwide mission in more than 378 offices. We are pushing technology to make the world smaller, make each employee more effective, and make it safer for those who work daily to enforce this nation's drug laws.

DEA's IT customers tend to be computer literate and are very much more informed consumers. We have put in place a very effective advisory working group made up of our customers who have an interest in IT and technology overall.

At DEA, the Field Advisory Council (FAC), composed primarily of assistant special agents in charge from each of our 21 field divisions, as well as, a number of headquarter's representatives, help to identify the IT services needed to support field operations and also our most important administrative support functions.

They have brought the business requirements and helped establish many of the priorities that we are pursuing today. We no longer want DEA IT professionals to independently define what our customers need and when or how it should be presented.

Through the use of the FAC and other mechanisms, our customers are now far more involved in identifying IT support requirements and priorities. This has been one of our most useful tools in avoiding the once-too-common approach of having the IT professionals building something in a vacuum "they" believed the field needed.

Through the FAC process, we have also been able to make the operations-minded portion of our work force recognize the necessity of their dedicated involvement in the development of any IT project requirements.

The final issue is funding. DEA has focused a great deal of effort on an IT investment management process. The IT Capital Planning efforts have brought the headquarters support organizations together to seek consistent and cost effective solutions. Where in the past there may have been reason to seek separate solutions, the trend is to look for integrated solutions that solve many needs.

As the confidence in our ability to deliver these integrated solutions has grown with our successes our customer's willingness to seek separate solutions has diminished. An IT Business Council composed of senior headquarters managers and representatives from the FAC focus on the IT investments that will best serve DEA. This is where the CIO gets to put the brakes on those projects that either don't or won't meet the needs of the customer in a cost effective way.

WT: What do you look for in companies with which you are thinking of doing business?

Simpkins: We like to see a customer-focus and an excellent track record. Saying that, we want to make sure you realize that we don't exclude new companies that haven't had the opportunity to prove themselves yet. This is the same model we are using to grade our support to our customers. We don't know if we have strong customer satisfaction if we don't ask the customer, and we won't ever achieve it if we don't ask them what they want. The same parallel we look for in companies applies to DEA's internal IT support.

WT: For a company that is new to working with your agency and has something to offer you, where is a good place to start?

Simpkins: If you are exploring business opportunities with DEA that involve technology, your best bet is to go straight to the technical staff. The deputy CIO, Dennis McCrary, has been my right-hand technical touchstone the entire time I have been the CIO. It has been surprisingly successful having a non-technical CIO such as me keep the technology implementations on track.

If your technology involves information systems or intelligence capabilities, the best point of contact is our Chief Technology Officer Mark Shafernich. He can be reached at For business systems, the contact is Helen Pannullo in our IT business unit at

WT: A year from now, where do see the agency's technology capabilities?

Simpkins: In addition to continuing to expand our efforts to deliver the advanced IT capabilities essential to our internal customer's need to become more and more successful and efficient, we also hope to improve DEA's information sharing position throughout the government.

DEA has deployed an office automation infrastructure to more than 350 locations worldwide servicing more than 14,000 users, including special agents, diversion investigators, intelligence analysts, chemists, laboratory technicians, administrative support staff, authorized contractors and assigned state and local task force officers. This has been accomplished with the support of the DoJ, OMB and particularly with the support received from congressional staffs that actively reviewed DEA deployment efforts and the establishment of funds for Operations and Maintenance and Technology Refreshment to maintain the viability of the system.

Today, with a DEA worldwide IT support infrastructure, an electronic case file, a growing ability to identify individuals and activities of investigative interest in a more timely manner and the emerging ability to share information in a secure manner with the law enforcement community, today's DEA agent operates in a different environment.

Efforts are under way to move away from stovepipe system solutions to new technologies, such as the Web technologies, data warehouse and collaboration tools, in our initiative called Concorde.

As a result there will be better access to critical investigative and administrative information in the future.
Currently, the priority is on improving the ability of the agent to collect, document and develop case information and share it in a timely manner.

The emphasis is on collecting information once and using it to satisfy many information requests providing more time for the agent to focus on conducting investigations. This effort, called Impact, is in the early stages of deployment. This effort is the first segment in the Concorde program.

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