Watchdog suspects DEA chief Milgram awarded Jersey-style no-bid contracts

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief Anne Milgram

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General is investigating whether the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief, Anne Milgram, improperly awarded millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to hire her past associates, according to anonymous sources.

The probe reportedly focuses on at least $4.7m spent on “strategic planning and communication” that was used in part to hire people Milgram knew from her days as New Jersey’s attorney general and as a New York University law professor.

The probe is also looking at a $1.4m payment to a Washington law firm for a recent review of the DEA’s foreign operations.

The review was co-authored by Boyd Johnson, a former right-hand man to one of Milgram’s closest friends, Preet Bharara, and Bharara himself later joined the law firm.

The DEA is currently struggling with repeated revelations of agent misconduct and a fentanyl crisis that Milgram has described as the “deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced”.

The DEA has also been facing criticism over a recent report by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General that revealed the agency had failed to adequately oversee its confidential sources, some of whom were involved in illegal activities, putting the agency’s investigations at risk.

Milgram’s leadership of the DEA has been praised by some lawmakers and law enforcement officials, who believe she has brought a much-needed shake-up to the agency. But others have criticized her management style and the changes she has implemented, saying they have caused morale to plummet and led to a loss of experienced staff.

The investigation into the DEA’s contracting practices under Milgram is likely to intensify the scrutiny of her leadership and raise questions about her ability to reform the agency. It could also damage her reputation and potentially derail her future career prospects.

Milgram, a former federal prosecutor and New Jersey attorney general, was widely seen as a rising star in Democratic Party circles before her appointment to lead the DEA. She is widely viewed as a potential candidate for higher office in the future.

The investigation is also likely to fuel concerns about the use of no-bid contracts by government agencies, which have come under increased scrutiny in recent years. Critics say such contracts can be used to reward political allies and bypass competitive bidding processes, leading to inflated costs and a lack of accountability.

The DEA’s contracting practices have previously been the subject of controversy. In 2019, the agency came under fire for awarding a $500,000 no-bid contract to a small Virginia firm run by two longtime friends of then-Attorney General William Barr. The contract was for a review of the DEA’s diversion control program, which regulates the distribution of prescription drugs. The review was criticized by some lawmakers and watchdog groups for being overly favorable to the industry.

In response to the controversy, the DEA said it had launched a review of its contracting practices and would implement new controls to ensure greater transparency and accountability.

The investigation into the DEA’s contracting practices is ongoing, and it remains to be seen what its final outcome will be. But the allegations against Milgram and the agency are likely to continue to generate headlines and fuel concerns about the use of government contracts to reward political allies.

As the investigation unfolds, Milgram will face mounting pressure to demonstrate that her leadership of the DEA is transparent, accountable, and free of conflicts of interest. Her future and the future of the agency she leads may depend on her ability to do so.

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