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Law Enforcement: Better Performance Measures Needed to Assess Results of Justice's Office of Science and Technology

GAO-04-198 Published: Nov 14, 2003. Publicly Released: Dec 09, 2003.
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The mission of the Office of Science & Technology (OST), within the Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice (NIJ), is to improve the safety and effectiveness of technology used by federal, state, and local law enforcement and other public safety agencies. Through NIJ, OST funds programs in forensic sciences, crime prevention, and standards and testing. To support these programs, Congress increased funding for OST from $13.2 million in 1995 to $204.2 million in 2003 (in constant 2002 dollars). GAO reviewed (1) the growth in OST's budgetary resources and the changes in OST's program responsibilities, (2) the types of products OST delivers and the methods used for delivering them; and (3) how well OST's efforts to measure the success of its programs in achieving intended results meet applicable requirements.


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Justice To help ensure that OST does all that is possible to measure its progress in achieving goals through outcome-oriented measures, the Attorney General should instruct the Director of NIJ to reassess the measures OST uses to evaluate its progress toward achieving its goals and to better focus on outcome measures to assess results where possible. In those cases where measuring outcome is, after careful consideration, deemed infeasible, appropriate intermediate measures that will help to discern program effectiveness should be developed.
Closed – Implemented
In November 2003 we reported on our review of performance measures that the National Institute of Justice's (NIJ) Office of Science & Technology (OST) developed to evaluate progress toward achieving program goals and found that none were outcome-oriented. Instead the measures focused on outputs (the count of goods ands services produced) or intermediate measures (progress to achieving intended results). We recommended NIJ to reassess the measures, focus on outcomes (actual results compared with intended results) where possible, and develop intermediate measures in those cases where it deemed measuring outcomes as infeasible. Acting on our recommendation in 2004, NIJ stated that it concentrated its reassessment efforts on 8 measures that it considered best reflected program outcomes or were, at a minimum, intermediate measures that provided meaningful information about program effectiveness. We agree that one of those new measurements is outcome-oriented: the percent reduction in DNA backlog. According to NIJ, reassessment efforts continued through 2006, such as updating its strategic plan and providing staff with performance measurement training. In addition, NIJ noted that the White House Office of Management and Budget initiated a Performance Assessment Rating Tool (PART) review of all NIJ programs in 2005. We encourage NIJ to continue its efforts to improve the measurement of OST program effectiveness, as such efforts will assist Congress and NIJ's management and customers to better assess whether investment in OST programs was paying off with improved law enforcement and public safety technology.

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