Federal Criminal Restitution:
Department of Justice Has Ongoing Efforts to Improve Its Oversight of the Collection of Restitution and Tracking the Use of Forfeited Assets
GAO-20-676R: Published: Sep 30, 2020. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2020.
The Department of Justice is responsible for collecting from defendants who have been ordered by a federal court to pay restitution.
We evaluated DOJ's collection process in 2018 and made 2 recommendations. This report shows how they were addressed.
- We recommended measures and goals to better gauge the success of DOJ collection efforts. DOJ said these would be finalized in FY 2021, a delay of about 1 year from its earlier plan.
- We recommended DOJ gather information about cases where forfeited assets were not used to compensate victims and consider using them to do so. DOJ now gathers this information. It has no plans to alter its practices.
What GAO Found
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is responsible for collecting restitution payments from defendants who have been ordered by a federal court to pay restitution as part of their sentences, and has delegated these activities to Financial Litigation Units within each of its 94 U.S. Attorneyâ€™s Offices (USAO). In February 2018, GAO reported that while DOJ was developing tools to monitor the collection of federal criminal restitution, it had not established performance measures or goals to allow DOJ to gauge the success of USAOs in collecting restitution. GAO also reported that DOJ did not have insight into reasons why funds from forfeited assets were not actually being used to compensate eligible victims.
Based on our findings, we recommended that the Attorney General:
(1) Develop and implement performance measures and goals for each USAO related to the collection of restitution, and measure progress towards meeting those goals; and
(2) In cases where forfeited assets were not used to compensate victims, gather information on reasons why forfeited assets were not used for victims, and, if warranted based on this information, take action to increase the use of forfeited assets to compensate eligible victims.
DOJ has made progress in developing and implementing performance measures and goals for each USAO related to the collection of restitution, and expects to fully implement this recommendation in the first quarter of fiscal year 2021. Regarding gathering information on reasons why forfeited assets were not used for victims. DOJ has taken action to implement this recommendation.
This report addresses the Attorney Generalâ€™s implementation of the recommendations.
DOJ Has Made Progress in Developing Performance Measures and Goals, but Has Experienced Some Challenges
As mentioned, the DOJ expects to finalize and implement performance measures and goals to evaluate each USAO related to the collection of restitution during the first quarter of fiscal year 2021. However, DOJ has experienced challenges, which have delayed implementation.
DOJ officials we interviewed stated that the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) developed a core set of metrics to assess each of the 94 USAOâ€™s debt collection efforts, and that since 2018 EOUSA has been working with the Justice Management Divisionâ€™s Debt Collection Management staff to develop a business intelligence analytical tool to assist in analyzing these metrics. However, according to DOJ, given the uniqueness of each USAO, it has experienced challengesâ€”resulting in delays--in developing measures and goals that provide USAOs with sufficient flexibility to account for each officeâ€™s workload, priorities, and available resources. Initially, DOJâ€™s proposed completion time frame was October 2020; however, as of August 2020, it is scheduled to take place during the first quarter of fiscal year 2021.
DOJ Has Taken Steps to Better Track and Use Forfeited Assets
On February 9, 2019, DOJ modified the Consolidated Asset Tracking System (CATS) to obtain information on the use of forfeited assets, including reasons why forfeited assets were not used to compensate eligible victims. Based on the information now available following the February 2019 modifications to CATS, DOJ is able to gather reasons why forfeited assets were not used, and has made the determination that no further adjustments to its current practices are warranted. The modifications made to CATS included the addition of 25 new data variables that allow system users the ability to identify and input the specific reason(s) why victims were not compensated with funds from forfeited assets. DOJ officials said the data system enhancements and upgraded features assist the department in its efforts to manage victim compensation information throughout the forfeiture process, and may also ensure that victims are compensated in a timely manner. GAO has concluded that DOJ has met the intent of our 2018 recommendation on gathering information on the reasons why forfeited assets were not used for victims.
Why GAO Did This Study
A provision in the Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016 required two GAO reports on federal criminal restitution. We issued our first report in February 2018 and made two recommendations to the Attorney General to improve oversight of the collection of federal criminal restitution. GAOâ€™s objective was to address the Attorney Generalâ€™s implementation of the recommendations. GAO reviewed relevant DOJ policies and guidance and interviewed department officials to identify DOJâ€™s process and progress in developing performance measures and goals for each USAO related to the collection of federal criminal restitutionâ€”including the departmentâ€™s reported challenges experienced. GAO also obtained and analyzed documentation to identify the extent to which DOJ gathered information on the reasons why forfeited assets were not used to compensate eligible victims and whether DOJ used this information to consider whether action was necessary to increase the use of forfeited assets.
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