U.S. Secret Service:

Data Analyses Could Better Inform the Domestic Field Office Structure

GAO-16-288: Published: Feb 10, 2016. Publicly Released: Mar 11, 2016.

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Diana C. Maurer
(202) 512-9627
maurerd@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

From fiscal years 2009 through 2014, the annual cost of the U.S. Secret Service's domestic field office structure—including 115 field offices, resident offices, and resident agencies—ranged from $500 million to $549 million, but the Secret Service did not accurately record cost data for some offices. GAO determined that although the Secret Service's cost data were reasonably reliable in the aggregate, salary and benefit costs may not have been accurately recorded in the agency's time and attendance system for 21 of 73 of the agency's smaller offices. Specifically,

thirteen resident offices and resident agencies likely had their salaries and benefits costs attributed to the field offices in their districts, and

eight had higher than expected salaries and benefits costs that may include the salaries and benefits of personnel in field offices.

By implementing a review process to ensure time and attendance charge codes for cost data are correctly established, the Secret Service could reliably determine the cost of each of its domestic offices.

The Secret Service's domestic offices predominately carry out the agency's investigative mission of various financial and electronic crimes and play an integral role in providing protection. GAO's analysis of Secret Service data from fiscal years 2009 through 2014 found that domestic offices removed at least $18 million in counterfeit funds from circulation annually, and coordinated with state and local partners to support between 5,597 and 6,386 protective visits each year. The Secret Service has developed a performance system, which aligns with its missions, to assess domestic office contributions to the agency's missions, which vary by office.

GAO also found that the Secret Service uses data to adjust staffing for the domestic offices, but the agency does not fully use all available data to analyze its domestic field office structure. For example, the Secret Service has not compared domestic field office districts' costs relative to performance or used personnel travel data to analyze whether the domestic offices are optimally located and sized to best meet the agency's mission needs. GAO's analyses of cost, performance, and travel data indicated that some field office districts were more efficient than others and personnel from four domestic offices frequently traveled to non-Secret Service office locations for investigations, potentially indicating the need for a Secret Service presence in these locations. This type of analysis could help the Secret Service determine if its field office structure is responsive to changing conditions and if an adjustment to the structure is warranted. By conducting an analysis of its domestic offices using cost and performance data, among other data as appropriate, the Secret Service could be better positioned to ensure that its domestic field office structure is meeting its mission needs.

This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in November 2015. Information that the Secret Service deemed sensitive has been removed.

Why GAO Did This Study

Commonly known for protecting the President, the Secret Service also plays a role in investigating and preventing a variety of financial and electronic crimes (e.g., counterfeiting). To execute its dual investigative and protective missions, the Secret Service operates a domestic field office structure of 115 offices in 42 districts.

GAO was asked to review the Secret Service's domestic field office structure. This report evaluates (1) the costs of the Secret Service's domestic field office structure and to what extent the data are reliable, (2) how domestic offices enable the Secret Service to accomplish its missions, and (3) the extent to which the Secret Service uses available data to ensure that its domestic field office structure meets its mission needs and what data reliability challenges, if any, exist.

GAO analyzed the Secret Service's cost, performance, and travel data for fiscal years 2009 through 2014, including a regression analysis of cost to performance. GAO also interviewed Secret Service headquarters officials; officials from 12 domestic offices selected based on size, performance and mission focus; and 15 of the agency's law enforcement partners.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends, among other things, that the Secret Service implement a review process to ensure it accurately records cost data, and conduct an analysis of its domestic field office structure using cost and performance data. The Department of Homeland Security concurred.

For more information, contact Diana C. Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or maurerd@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2017, the Budget Division (BUD) within the Office of the Chief Financial Officer reviewed bi-weekly reports for each Secret Service Directorate to identify whether employees' assigned organizational codes differed from charged codes in WebTA (i.e., time and attendance system). BUD coordinated with the Office of Human Resources, Benefits & Payroll Division (BPR) to understand the root cause of the errors and to identify corrective actions required for each discrepancy. BUD and BPR communicated with timekeepers from each operational Secret Service Directorate to address common errors and reduce discrepancies. BUD also notified Directorates of the timekeeper discrepancies requiring review and issued WebTA guidance to timekeepers across the Secret Service. BUD continues to provide bi-weekly reports to Secret Service Directorates to continue refining the time and attendance data. The Secret Service's actions should help ensure time and attendance codes used for recording cost data at each domestic office are correctly established and appropriately attributed to the correct office.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Secret Service accurately records salaries and benefits cost data for its domestic offices, the Director of the Secret Service should implement a review process to ensure time and attendance codes used for recording cost data at each domestic office are correctly established and appropriately attributed to the correct office.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Secret Service

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: The Secret Service's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy (OSP) has developed and tested a model to assess whether its domestic field office structure is enabling the agency to best meet its mission needs. The results of the model are being reviewed by internal stakeholders. OSP anticipates on completing the report by June 15, 2017. Once completed, these actions should help the Secret Service determine whether its domestic field office structure is enabling the agency to best meet its mission needs. This recommendation will remain open until we receive documentation showing that actions have been taken that meet the intent or our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the Secret Service's domestic field office structure is enabling the Secret Service to best meet its mission needs, the Director of the Secret Service should conduct an analysis using cost and performance data and consider using other data, such as travel data, to assess and inform its domestic field office structure.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Secret Service

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: The Secret Service's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy plans to maintain any analyses completed on assessing the field office structure. The model and initial results are undergoing review by internal stakeholders. This recommendation will remain open until we receive documentation showing that actions have been taken that meet the intent or our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the Secret Service's domestic field office structure is enabling the Secret Service to best meet its mission needs, the Director of the Secret Service should maintain a record of the analyses performed and the results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Secret Service

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: The Secret Service's Financial Management Division issued a directive in October 2016, which provides guidance to all employees on properly coding training courses and conferences. Specifically, the directive specifies project codes that are required to be used for all training and conference requests and resulting travel vouchers and invoices. For example, all training that occurs at the Secret Service's Rowley Training Center is to be associated with project code 230.000. As a result, the Secret Service will be able to distinguish travel taken for training and conference purposes from travel for investigative purposes. The Financial Management Division is in the process of determining corrective actions to ensure travel requests are "effectively reviewed and approved." This recommendation will remain open until we receive documentation showing that all actions have been taken that meet the intent or our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Secret Service has reliable information on the number and cost of trips for its domestic field office personnel for investigative and training purposes, the Director of the Secret Service should enhance its travel request and approval process to ensure that the trip purpose is accurately documented, effectively reviewed and approved, and accurately recorded.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Secret Service

 

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