Asset Forfeiture:

U.S. Marshals Service Internal Control Weaknesses Over Cash Distributions

GGD-92-59: Published: May 8, 1992. Publicly Released: May 19, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Equitable Sharing Program, focusing on two U.S. Marshals Service districts' internal controls over the disbursement of forfeited property and cash resulting from criminal activities to state and local law enforcement agencies.

GAO found that: (1) internal control weaknesses at the Marshals Service Central and Southern Districts of California made cash obtained from asset forfeitures vulnerable to loss and misuse; (2) each district followed its own locally established procedures for preparing and distributing checks to state and local law enforcement agencies; (3) district officers may not be able to detect erroneous or fraudulent payments because they do not adequately separate duties among staff or properly certify payment vouchers; (4) the risk of loss or unauthorized use of cash was further increased because neither district forwarded checks directly to the recipient state or local agencies; (5) one district made checks payable to state and local officials rather than to the government entities they represented; and (6) the DOJ Inspector General identified similar control problems in its audit of the sharing program.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Justice states that this recommendation is intended to minimize the risk of loss through fraud or misappropriation, but the risk is insignificant, especially with new procedures in place for processing sharing distributions and is outweighed by benefits derived from the presentations they conduct between recipient agencies and federal law enforcement agencies.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that forfeited cash is adequately protected, the Attorney General should direct the Executive Office of Asset Forfeiture to change its policy on routing sharing checks through federal investigative agencies or the U.S. Attorney before delivery to the recipient state or local agencies. The revised policy should require that checks go directly from the Marshals Service to the recipient agency. The policy could also suggest using letters or facsimile checks in congratulatory ceremonies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 3, 1992, the Marshals Service issued specific servicewide guidance and procedures for making asset sharing cash distributions. These procedures have been incorporated into the Marshals Service manual, which will be published soon.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Marshals Service should develop clear, specific service-wide guidance and procedures for making asset sharing cash distributions. The guidance should include explanations of what conditions do and do not create proper separation of duties as well as specifics on how vouchers should be certified. It should be emphasized that checks should be made payable to recipient agencies and not to individual parties. This internal control guidance should be based on standards contained in the GAO Policy and Procedures Manual for Guidance of Federal Agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: United States Marshals Service

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Marshals Service has instituted an internal control system to ensure that program responsibilities directly associated with the asset forfeiture program are accomplished. A major oversight program is the program manager's review which ensures that district offices are in compliance with Department and program policies, procedures, and practices.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Marshals Service should direct regional offices to monitor districts periodically to ensure that the guidance results in procedures that adequately safeguard forfeited cash. The results of this monitoring should be included in the reports required under the Federal Managers' Financial Integrity Act.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: United States Marshals Service


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