U.S. Marshals' Dilemma:

Serving Two Branches of Government

GGD-82-3: Published: Apr 19, 1982. Publicly Released: May 17, 1982.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the various functions performed by the U.S. marshals. This report, the first in a series of three, concerns the organizational relationship of U.S. marshals to the Department of Justice and the Federal Judiciary, which is comprised of federal judges, the Judicial Conference of the United States, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

U.S. Marshals are responsible, under separate legislation, for accomplishing missions and objectives of both the executive and judicial branches of the government. GAO believes that, as currently implemented, this is a difficult and unworkable management condition; the Director of the U.S. Marshals Service cannot properly manage law enforcement responsibilities assigned by the Attorney General, and the operation of the federal judicial process suffers. GAO stated that adding more resources could conceivably reduce, in the short term, the operating problems being encountered. However, the basic cause of the problems, the manner in which dual authority over U.S. marshals is exercised, would remain. Both branches of the government would still have authority to take actions which would hinder the ability of the other branch to accomplish its mission.

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

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Congress should, if the agencies concerned do not implement the GAO recommendations, take legislative action to eliminate the Attorney General's authority to supervise, direct, and control the operations of U.S. marshals.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The recommendation is contingent on inaction by the agencies. Both have acted and supported administrative and legislative efforts to solve the reported problems. An approach to provide more resources has been developed and agreed to in principle. This approach should at least mitigate, if not fully resolve, the problem.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Judicial Conference should require the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to cooperate with and assist the Attorney General in defining and obtaining pertinent information needed to determine each district court's base-level resource needs for U.S. marshal personnel.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should apprise Congress, during the appropriation and authorization process, about the nature and status of any problems related to the use of marshals' resources and actions taken to resolve these problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should assign law enforcement tasks to marshals only on the basis of those residual resources remaining after fulfillment of court-related duties. Because this will probably further hinder the Department's ability to use marshals to perform centralized law enforcement programs, responsibility for conducting these law enforcement duties should be reassigned from the Marshals Service to other Justice Department organizations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: A mechanism to meet court needs through the provision of new resources has been developed and agreed to in principle. This should at least mitigate, if not fully resolve, the operating problem.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should establish a policy that the provision of court security and the execution of all lawful court orders are the top priority of each U.S. marshal. U.S. marshals should be supervised to ensure each is properly fulfilling the needs of their respective district courts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should develop, with the assistance of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the base-level marshal personnel resource needs for each federal district court. This information should then be used as a major factor to prepare the U.S. Marshals Service's budget.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Judicial Conference should require the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to apprise Congress, during the appropriation and authorization process, about the nature and status of any problems related to the use of marshals' resources and actions taken to resolve these problems.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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