Changes Needed in Witness Security Program

GGD-83-25: Published: Mar 17, 1983. Publicly Released: Apr 15, 1983.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO evaluated operational aspects of the Department of Justice's Witness Security Program.

GAO found that procedural deficiencies had enabled relocated witnesses to avoid legal obligations to the detriment of various third parties. An internal policy directive issued in April 1982 could help to mitigate these problems. However, legislative changes are needed to enhance the rights of third parties to enforce court judgments against witnesses and establish specific criteria to guide the program. GAO also found that program operations cannot be adequately assessed because the program does not have adequate information and procedures to facilitate evaluation. GAO concluded that specific legislative criteria need to be established to guide the operation of the program. Further, considering the cost and controversial nature of the program, GAO believes that Justice should establish an information system and a mechanism to facilitate independent evaluation.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should enact legislation to provide that any information disclosed to a third party by the Attorney General can be used only in connection with the process of seeking the legal enforcement of a court judgment and establish criminal penalties for the improper use of the this information.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should enact legislation to provide, upon petition of the affected third party, for Federal judicial review as to whether the disclosure decision made by the Attorney General was arbitrary and capricious, or without any reasonable factual basis.

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should enact legislation that requires the Attorney General to disclose, in a secure manner, the best known information on the current identity and location of a witness only after a witness is given a chance to comply with or appeal a judgment and only in circumstances when the Attorney General is unable to determine on the basis of available evidence that: (1) the disclosure could likely result in physical harm to the witness; or (2) the witness does not have the ability, financial or otherwise, to resolve the judgment.

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should enact legislation that requires the Attorney General to make reasonable efforts to serve legal process, especially court judgments, on a relocated witness and, in the case of a court judgment, to advise third parties in a timely manner about the witness' intentions to comply with or otherwise respond to these judgments.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. 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 modify program policies and procedures to reduce the chances of third parties being harmed by the relocation of witnesses while at the same time ensuring the safety of witnesses by offering all witnesses the opportunity and necessary assistance (transportation, protection, etc.) to safely go into court and litigate civil matters.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. 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 modify program policies and procedures to reduce the chances of third parties being harmed by the relocation of witnesses while at the same time ensuring the safety of witnesses by notifying nonrelocated parents of the pending admission of a minor child to the program and of the procedures that Justice will follow to ensure that his/her legally established parental rights may be exercised after the child enters the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  3. 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 modify program policies and procedures to reduce the chances of third parties being harmed by the relocation of witnesses while at the same time ensuring the safety of witnesses by advising witnesses when they enter the program that they are expected to comply with court judgments directed against them or to take the necessary legal actions to resolve such disputes, otherwise their new identity and location will be disclosed to third parties who possess court judgments unless the Attorney General determines on the basis of available evidence that disclosure could be harmful to the witness' physical safety or that the witness does not have the ability, financial or otherwise, to resolve the judgment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although Justice does not intend to implement this recommendation, GAO continues to believe this action is needed. Without the benefit of an information system that provides accurate and timely data it will be difficult to properly evaluate the program.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should develop an information system and procedures to allow for appropriate evaluation of the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

 

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