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Highlights

Thousands of gang members in the United States belong to gangs such as MS-13 and 18th Street that are also active in Central American countries. Federal entities with responsibilities for addressing Central American gangs include the National Security Council (NSC); the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), and State; and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). GAO was asked to review federal efforts to combat transnational gangs. This report addresses (1) the extent to which the federal government has developed a strategy to combat these gangs, and (2) how federal agencies have implemented the strategy and other programs to combat these gangs, coordinated their actions, and assessed their results. GAO examined federal agencies' antigang plans, resources, and measures; interviewed federal, state, and local officials in seven localities representing varying population sizes and geographic regions; and interviewed U.S. and foreign officials in El Salvador and Guatemala where U.S. agencies have implemented antigang programs. The results of these interviews are not generalizable.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
National Security Council To strengthen oversight and accountability for implementation of the Strategy to Combat the Threat of Criminal Gangs from Central America and Mexico (the Strategy), the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, in conjunction with DOJ, DHS, State, USAID, and DOD, should revise the Strategy to include, or include in the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) if the Strategy is incorporated into that initiative an approach or framework for overseeing implementation of the Strategy and antigang efforts in Central America.
Closed - Not Implemented
GAO provided the National Security Council with a copy of the report. As of June 2014, the Council had not provided GAO with any comments on the status of this recommendation or plans, if any, to implement the recommendation.
National Security Council To strengthen oversight and accountability for implementation of the Strategy to Combat the Threat of Criminal Gangs from Central America and Mexico (the Strategy), the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, in conjunction with DOJ, DHS, State, USAID, and DOD, should revise the Strategy to include, or include in the CARSI if the Strategy is incorporated into that initiative performance goals and measures to assess progress made in achieving intended results under the Strategy.
Closed - Not Implemented
GAO provided the National Security Council with a copy of the report. As of June 2014, the Council had not provided GAO with any comments on the status of this recommendation or plans, if any, to implement the recommendation.
Department of Justice To strengthen federal agencies' coordination of antigang efforts and maximize use of federal law enforcement resources in El Salvador, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security should reach agreement on ICE's role and participation in the Transnational Anti-Gang unit (TAG) unit.
Closed - Implemented
Our review found that coordination and information sharing on gang members and investigations could be strengthened in a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) antigang unit in El Salvador by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reaching agreement on Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) role in the unit. While the FBI was able to request information directly from the Salvadoran police stationed at the unit, because ICE did not have an agent at the unit, ICE requests for information first went to its country attache who sent it on to FBI agents at the unit who then passed it on to the Salvadoran police. FBI and ICE officials stated that the process could be strengthened by ICE's direct participation in the unit. Although they had been discussing ICE's possible participation since 2008, they had not yet reached agreement at the time of our report. Consequently, we recommended that DOJ and DHS reach agreement on ICE's role and participation in the unit. As of January 2011, both DOJ and DHS reported that the FBI, ICE, and DOJ had undertaken a series of discussions to consider ICE's participation. As a result of these discussions, it was agreed that the FBI and ICE have appropriate systems in place for ensuring that the FBI and ICE in EI Salvador work in an efficient and coordinated manner and that ICE's direct participation in the FBI unit was not necessary. As evidence of this coordination, the departments cited the fact that FBI and ICE personnel in EI Salvador routinely deconflict investigations and operations and provide assistance in each other's cases as well as meet on a weekly basis to address significant activities and coordinate investigations. The departments also noted that both FBI and ICE leadership monitor the work carefully to ensure that their respective units continue to coordinate their efforts and that the FBI and ICE are engaged in discussions to establish similar processes in Guatemala and Honduras as additional antigang units become operational in those countries. By reaching agreement on ICE's role and participation in the FBI's unit and taking steps to facilitate continued coordination and information sharing between ICE and the FBI during investigations, these actions are consistent with our recommendation.
Department of Homeland Security To strengthen federal agencies' coordination of antigang efforts and maximize use of federal law enforcement resources in El Salvador, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security should reach agreement on ICE's role and participation in the Transnational Anti-Gang unit (TAG) unit.
Closed - Implemented
Our review found that coordination and information sharing on gang members and investigations could be strengthened in a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) antigang unit in El Salvador by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reaching agreement on Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) role in the unit. While the FBI was able to request information directly from the Salvadoran police stationed at the unit, because ICE did not have an agent at the unit, ICE requests for information first went to its country attache who sent it on to FBI agents at the unit who then passed it on to the Salvadoran police. FBI and ICE officials stated that the process could be strengthened by ICE's direct participation in the unit. Although they had been discussing ICE's possible participation since 2008, they had not yet reached agreement at the time of our report. Consequently, we recommended that DOJ and DHS reach agreement on ICE's role and participation in the unit. As of January 2011, both DOJ and DHS reported that the FBI, ICE, and DOJ had undertaken a series of discussions to consider ICE's participation. As a result of these discussions, it was agreed that the FBI and ICE have appropriate systems in place for ensuring that the FBI and ICE in El Salvador work in an efficient and coordinated manner and that ICE's direct participation in the FBI unit was not necessary. As evidence of this coordination, the departments cited the fact that FBI and ICE personnel in EI Salvador routinely deconflict investigations and operations and provide assistance in each other's cases as well as meet on a weekly basis to address significant activities and coordinate investigations. The departments also noted that both FBI and ICE leadership monitor the work carefully to ensure that their respective units continue to coordinate their efforts and that the FBI and ICE are engaged in discussions to establish similar processes in Guatemala and Honduras as additional antigang units become operational in those countries. By reaching agreement on ICE's role and participation in the FBI's unit and taking steps to facilitate continued coordination and information sharing between ICE and the FBI during investigations, these actions are consistent with our recommendation.

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