Appointment and Qualifications of U.S. Marshals

GAO-03-499R: Published: Apr 2, 2003. Publicly Released: Apr 2, 2003.

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Cathleen A. Berrick
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The U.S. Marshal Service was created by the first Congress in the Judiciary Act of 1789. U.S. Marshals were placed in each federal judicial district and were given broad authority to support the federal courts and to carry out all lawful orders issued by judges, Congress, and the President. Early duties of U.S. Marshals included taking the census, distributing presidential proclamations, protecting the borders, and making arrests. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, some responsibilities of U.S. Marshals were transferred to newly created federal agencies, including the U.S. Census Bureau, Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Today, the primary responsibilities of U.S. Marshals include protecting federal judges and witnesses, transporting federal prisoners, apprehending federal fugitives, and managing assets seized from criminal enterprises. We obtained information on the (1) U.S. Marshals' appointment process and, for comparison, the processes used by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF); Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) to select senior field supervisors; (2) experience, education and diversity of U.S. Marshalls and senior field supervisors at the ATF, DEA, and IRS-CI; (3) authority of the Director of the U.S. Marshalls Service (USMS) to guide and control activities of U.S. Marshalls; and (4) past legislative and other proposals for reforming the U.S. Marshals' appointment process.

The process used to appoint U.S. Marshals to the federal judicial districts has not changed since the founding of the USMS. The President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoints U.S. Marshals for a 4-year term. According to the Congressional Research Service, custom dictates that the President generally nominates an individual recommended by the Senator(s) from the state in which the vacancy is being filled if they are from the same party as the President. If neither Senator is from the same party, the President normally defers to the recommendations of party leaders from the state. While the average length of overall law enforcement experience of current U.S. Marshals was not significantly different than that of senior field supervisors at the ATF, DEA, and IRS-CI, the level of government from which the experience was obtained differed. Specifically, as of January 2003, current U.S. Marshals averaged 23 years of law enforcement experience, compared with 26 years at the DEA, 22 years at the IRS-CI, and 21 years at the ATF for senior field supervisors. However, the majority of law enforcement experience of U.S. Marshals was at the state, local, or county level, while the majority of law enforcement experience for senior field supervisors at the ATF, DEA, and IRS-CI was within their respective federal agencies. We also noted differences in the amount of supervisory law enforcement experience among current U.S. Marshals and senior field supervisors at the ATF, DEA, and IRS-CI. Regarding education, 54 out of 86 (63 percent) current U.S. Marshals, as of January 2003, had a bachelors or more advanced degree, as compared with 18 out of 20 (90 percent) senior field supervisors at the ATF, 19 out of 21 (90 percent) senior field supervisors at the DEA, and all 35 (100 percent) senior field supervisors at the IRS-CI. We also noted some differences between the gender and race/ethnicity profiles among U.S. Marshals and senior field supervisors at ATF, DEA, and IRS-CI. Prior to 1970s, individual U.S. Marshals operated without any centralized management over their activities. Although they were placed under the general supervision of the Attorney General under the original legislation creating the USMS, U.S. Marshals essentially operated independently within their individual districts. In the early 1970s, Attorney General orders established the USMS as a bureau within the Department of Justice led by a Director. In addition, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 statutorily established the USMS as a bureau within the DOJ, with a Director appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate. Over the past century, Congress, along with a number of presidential commissions studying government reform, proposed abolishing the presidential appointment of U.S. Marshals and establishing a competitive selection process in its place. However, Congress has not adopted any of these recommendations. The U.S. Marshals Service Reform Act of 2002 (S. 1977) was the latest legislative proposal to reform the appointment of U.S. Marshals. This bill, which was not enacted, would have provided for the appointment of U.S. Marshals by the Attorney General through the competitive civil service promotion process, as used by the ATF, DEA, and IRS-CI.

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