Law Enforcement Coordination:

DOJ Could Improve Its Process for Identifying Disagreements among Agents

GAO-11-314: Published: Apr 7, 2011. Publicly Released: May 9, 2011.

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According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), an estimated 1.3 million violent crimes occurred nationwide in 2009. The Department of Justice (DOJ) law enforcement components--the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; FBI, and U.S. Marshals Service--have overlapping jurisdiction over violent crime investigations, specifically when they involve illegal drugs, gang violence, firearms, explosives, arson, and fugitive apprehension. As requested, GAO assessed the extent to which selected agents are clear on their agencies' roles and responsibilities, and how components determine and coordinate roles and responsibilities to avoid unnecessary use of resources. GAO reviewed documents such as department directives and interviewed DOJ component officials in headquarters and nine cities, which were selected based on population and the presence of all DOJ components. GAO also surveyed a randomly selected, nongeneralizable sample of 315 field agents. The results provide valuable information about the range of perspectives of surveyed agents.

The majority of agents who responded to GAO's survey reported that they are very clear about their components' roles and responsibilities in the six investigative areas where they share jurisdiction--drugs, firearms, fugitives, gangs, arson, and explosives--and that mechanisms DOJ has in place to coordinate and clarify roles and responsibilities, such as memorandums of understanding, are somewhat effective. Agents who responded to GAO's survey most frequently reported using interpersonal outreach and communication to clarify roles and responsibilities, such as relying on task force experience and conferring with agents with other components when jurisdictions overlapped on particular investigations. Though the majority of agents reported being clear on their agency's roles and responsibilities, over one-third of survey respondents reported experiencing disagreements over the past 5 years with another DOJ component when determining roles and responsibilities during an investigation. Of the agents who reported disagreements, 78 percent reported that these disagreements negatively affected the investigation to some degree, for example, by prolonging investigations, calling for unnecessary use of resources, and causing low morale. Although the DOJ components have mechanisms in place to monitor how well components are coordinating, the scope of these mechanisms limits DOJ's ability to identify some problems. DOJ components conduct inspections of field offices every 3 to 6 years, which cover areas such as working relationships, operational programs, leadership, and management. However, officials from three of four component inspection divisions GAO interviewed said that they rely on interviews with senior management, such as the highest official in the field office, to gauge coordination and the working relationships among the DOJ law enforcement components, and do not solicit input from agents. Though, considering that field office managers are not likely aware of all disagreements that occur among agents and survey respondents reported that disagreements and poor working relationships negatively affected investigations and morale, soliciting input from field agents may put DOJ in a better position to determine why disagreements are occurring and how to address them so as to limit their impact on agents and investigations. GAO recommends that DOJ assess options to better identify and diagnose disagreements in the field and take action to limit the negative impacts from disagreements over jurisdictional overlap for some criminal investigations. DOJ agreed with GAO's recommendation.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Attorney General, the ATF Director, the DEA Administrator, the FBI Director, and the Director of USMS should assess the feasibility of options they could take to better determine the extent to which agents are clear on their roles and responsibilities and have experienced disagreements with other components in areas of shared jurisdiction. Actions taken from such an assessment could provide the data necessary to determine why disagreements are occurring and whether and how they could improve clarity, avoid negative impacts on investigations, and enhance the working relationships among components.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Federal Bureau of Investigation

    Status: Open

    Comments: In its 60-day letter, dated July 7, 2011, DOJ identified several actions that it would take in response to our recommendation. DOJ stated that it would hold periodic meetings during 2011 and 2012 among its four law enforcement components (FBI, ATF, DEA, and USMS) to 1) identify agent-level agreements, 2) determine how disagreements were resolved, and 3) improve information-sharing across the components. In August 2012, DOJ informed us that these meetings had taken place and resulted in a draft briefing paper that was submitted to the Deputy Attorney General for review. According to the DOJ liaison, DOJ will not provide the briefing paper to GAO until it has been signed by the DAG, which will likely be during calendar year 2013. It is important that we review that briefing paper and obtain attendance lists and, if available, agendas for the meetings among the law enforcement components to determine whether the recommendation has been implemented. DOJ also stated that it plans to expand its use of DEA's Special Operations Division (SOD) to act as a deconfliction center for all four law enforcement components as well as state and local partners. While we think these are positive steps towards improving agent clarity and avoiding disagreements, we do not believe this action alone addresses the recommendation, which is to develop a method by which DOJ can determine the extent to which agents are clear on their roles and responsibilities and are having disagreements.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General, the ATF Director, the DEA Administrator, the FBI Director, and the Director of USMS should assess the feasibility of options they could take to better determine the extent to which agents are clear on their roles and responsibilities and have experienced disagreements with other components in areas of shared jurisdiction. Actions taken from such an assessment could provide the data necessary to determine why disagreements are occurring and whether and how they could improve clarity, avoid negative impacts on investigations, and enhance the working relationships among components.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Open

    Comments: In its 60-day letter, dated July 7, 2011, DOJ identified several actions that it would take in response to our recommendation. DOJ stated that it would hold periodic meetings during 2011 and 2012 among its four law enforcement components (FBI, ATF, DEA, and USMS) to 1) identify agent-level agreements, 2) determine how disagreements were resolved, and 3) improve information-sharing across the components. In August 2012, DOJ informed us that these meetings had taken place and resulted in a draft briefing paper that was submitted to the Deputy Attorney General for review. According to the DOJ liaison, DOJ will not provide the briefing paper to GAO until it has been signed by the DAG, which will likely be during calendar year 2013. It is important that we review that briefing paper and obtain attendance lists and, if available, agendas for the meetings among the law enforcement components to determine whether the recommendation has been implemented. DOJ also stated that it plans to expand its use of DEA's Special Operations Division (SOD) to act as a deconfliction center for all four law enforcement components as well as state and local partners. While we think these are positive steps towards improving agent clarity and avoiding disagreements, we do not believe this action alone addresses the recommendation, which is to develop a method by which DOJ can determine the extent to which agents are clear on their roles and responsibilities and are having disagreements.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General, the ATF Director, the DEA Administrator, the FBI Director, and the Director of USMS should assess the feasibility of options they could take to better determine the extent to which agents are clear on their roles and responsibilities and have experienced disagreements with other components in areas of shared jurisdiction. Actions taken from such an assessment could provide the data necessary to determine why disagreements are occurring and whether and how they could improve clarity, avoid negative impacts on investigations, and enhance the working relationships among components.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

    Status: Open

    Comments: In its 60-day letter, dated July 7, 2011, DOJ identified several actions that it would take in response to our recommendation. DOJ stated that it would hold periodic meetings during 2011 and 2012 among its four law enforcement components (FBI, ATF, DEA, and USMS) to 1) identify agent-level agreements, 2) determine how disagreements were resolved, and 3) improve information-sharing across the components. In August 2012, DOJ informed us that these meetings had taken place and resulted in a draft briefing paper that was submitted to the Deputy Attorney General for review. According to the DOJ liaison, DOJ will not provide the briefing paper to GAO until it has been signed by the DAG, which will likely be during calendar year 2013. It is important that we review that briefing paper and obtain attendance lists and, if available, agendas for the meetings among the law enforcement components to determine whether the recommendation has been implemented. DOJ also stated that it plans to expand its use of DEA's Special Operations Division (SOD) to act as a deconfliction center for all four law enforcement components as well as state and local partners. While we think these are positive steps towards improving agent clarity and avoiding disagreements, we do not believe this action alone addresses the recommendation, which is to develop a method by which DOJ can determine the extent to which agents are clear on their roles and responsibilities and are having disagreements.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General, the ATF Director, the DEA Administrator, the FBI Director, and the Director of USMS should assess the feasibility of options they could take to better determine the extent to which agents are clear on their roles and responsibilities and have experienced disagreements with other components in areas of shared jurisdiction. Actions taken from such an assessment could provide the data necessary to determine why disagreements are occurring and whether and how they could improve clarity, avoid negative impacts on investigations, and enhance the working relationships among components.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Drug Enforcement Administration

    Status: Open

    Comments: In its 60-day letter, dated July 7, 2011, DOJ identified several actions that it would take in response to our recommendation. DOJ stated that it would hold periodic meetings during 2011 and 2012 among its four law enforcement components (FBI, ATF, DEA, and USMS) to 1) identify agent-level agreements, 2) determine how disagreements were resolved, and 3) improve information-sharing across the components. In August 2012, DOJ informed us that these meetings had taken place and resulted in a draft briefing paper that was submitted to the Deputy Attorney General for review. According to the DOJ liaison, DOJ will not provide the briefing paper to GAO until it has been signed by the DAG, which will likely be during calendar year 2013. It is important that we review that briefing paper and obtain attendance lists and, if available, agendas for the meetings among the law enforcement components to determine whether the recommendation has been implemented. DOJ also stated that it plans to expand its use of DEA's Special Operations Division (SOD) to act as a deconfliction center for all four law enforcement components as well as state and local partners. While we think these are positive steps towards improving agent clarity and avoiding disagreements, we do not believe this action alone addresses the recommendation, which is to develop a method by which DOJ can determine the extent to which agents are clear on their roles and responsibilities and are having disagreements.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General, the ATF Director, the DEA Administrator, the FBI Director, and the Director of USMS should assess the feasibility of options they could take to better determine the extent to which agents are clear on their roles and responsibilities and have experienced disagreements with other components in areas of shared jurisdiction. Actions taken from such an assessment could provide the data necessary to determine why disagreements are occurring and whether and how they could improve clarity, avoid negative impacts on investigations, and enhance the working relationships among components.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: United States Marshals Service

    Status: Open

    Comments: In its 60-day letter, dated July 7, 2011, DOJ identified several actions that it would take in response to our recommendation. DOJ stated that it would hold periodic meetings during 2011 and 2012 among its four law enforcement components (FBI, ATF, DEA, and USMS) to 1) identify agent-level agreements, 2) determine how disagreements were resolved, and 3) improve information-sharing across the components. In August 2012, DOJ informed us that these meetings had taken place and resulted in a draft briefing paper that was submitted to the Deputy Attorney General for review. According to the DOJ liaison, DOJ will not provide the briefing paper to GAO until it has been signed by the DAG, which will likely be during calendar year 2013. It is important that we review that briefing paper and obtain attendance lists and, if available, agendas for the meetings among the law enforcement components to determine whether the recommendation has been implemented. DOJ also stated that it plans to expand its use of DEA's Special Operations Division (SOD) to act as a deconfliction center for all four law enforcement components as well as state and local partners. While we think these are positive steps towards improving agent clarity and avoiding disagreements, we do not believe this action alone addresses the recommendation, which is to develop a method by which DOJ can determine the extent to which agents are clear on their roles and responsibilities and are having disagreements.

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