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Department of Justice: Actions Needed to Better Track and Monitor Responses to Congressional Correspondence

GAO-23-105231 Published: Nov 02, 2022. Publicly Released: Nov 02, 2022.
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Fast Facts

Congress sends hundreds of letters to DOJ every year seeking information on topics related to U.S. law enforcement and justice. However, Members of Congress have raised concerns about DOJ's responsiveness to their requests.

We found that DOJ doesn't collect accurate and complete information on its responses to congressional inquiries—which means it can't effectively track these responses. It also doesn't have agency-wide performance measures to monitor the timeliness of its responses.

We recommended that DOJ address these issues.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Justice (DOJ) lacks some key information that is preventing it from effectively tracking and monitoring responses to congressional correspondence. Specifically, DOJ does not systematically maintain quality data to track and monitor the status of responses, lacks guidance to ensure tracking system data quality, and has limited efforts to measure timeliness performance.

  • Quality data to track and monitor responses. DOJ does not systematically maintain readily available, accurate, and complete data on the universe of responses to congressional requests in DOJ's department-wide correspondence management system. For example, GAO analysis of available DOJ congressional correspondence data found that there are records with hundreds or over a thousand days between the date on the letter and the date DOJ documented receipt of the letter. However, certain components have taken steps to help ensure data quality. For example, the FBI has developed a data system tool that displays infographics of aggregate data with the status of pending letters to Congress that it uses to track and monitor response times and assess which stages of the process are potentially contributing to delays.
  • Guidance on data quality. DOJ has not established guidance on data quality to ensure the department and its components maintain reliable data on congressional correspondence from receipt to disposition. For example, DOJ's Correspondence Manual does not address how to maintain the data in its department-wide tracking system. However, the manual establishes policies and procedures for managing correspondence. GAO found that certain components also have inaccurate or incomplete congressional correspondence data. For example, GAO analysis of Federal Bureau of Prisons data found variation in the accuracy and completeness of date fields related to the receipt and disposition of congressional correspondence.
  • Timeliness performance measures. DOJ's Office of Legislative Affairs and three of the five components GAO reviewed have not yet developed performance measures to monitor the timeliness of their responses to Congress, but two have such measures. For example, the FBI has a performance goal of responding to certain oversight correspondence within 90 days. Federal internal control standards call for agencies, as part of program management, to develop and monitor performance measures to compare actual performance to expected results.

Ensuring its congressional correspondence tracking data are readily available, accurate, and complete, and developing guidance on data quality would help ensure that DOJ has the ability to systematically track and monitor efforts to develop timely responses and make any needed process improvements. Further, developing timeliness performance measures would better position DOJ to systematically identify the components or types of responses that are taking longer than expected and help DOJ and its components better manage the timeliness of responses to Congress.

Why GAO Did This Study

As a part of their oversight function, congressional committees and members of Congress hold hearings and send hundreds of information requests to DOJ and its components each year.

The Office of Legislative Affairs has primary responsibility for communications between Congress and DOJ. Five DOJ law enforcement components, including the FBI, also develop responses to Congress. However, Members of Congress have raised questions about DOJ's responsiveness to their requests.

GAO was asked to review DOJ and FBI procedures for responding to congressional requests for information. This report examines the extent to which DOJ has processes and information to effectively track and monitor responses to congressional correspondence and the timeliness of its responses.

GAO analyzed policies and processes of DOJ and five of its components; assessed available congressional correspondence data from calendar years 2012 to 2021; and interviewed DOJ officials.


GAO recommends that DOJ (1) maintain readily available, accurate and complete data on congressional correspondence, (2) develop guidance on tracking system data quality, and (3) develop timeliness performance measures. DOJ generally concurred with our recommendations and said it has already begun to implement them.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Justice The Attorney General should ensure that ExecSec and OLA maintain readily available, accurate, and complete congressional correspondence data to track responses in DOJ's department-wide correspondence management system. (Recommendation 1)
DOJ reported in June 2023 that ExecSec and OLA launched a new system for tracking congressional correspondence starting with the 118th Congress. According to DOJ, the new system allows the Department to better track its congressional response process by showing the steps in the process-from initial drafting to finalization and transmittal. The system also tracks where draft responses are in that process, according to DOJ. DOJ officials noted that the new system also shows the employee with responsibility for ensuring that a particular response is finalized and transmitted, and it allows the department to generate regular reports for managers and supervisors to monitor progress as needed. In October 2023, OLA officials stated that they have held meetings with key stakeholders (including ExecSec) to assess internal correspondence processes, standardized the data entry process, and have established goals. OLA officials also stated that they have developed checklists for accuracy, formatting, and context that attorneys are to use as part of their tracking process and have begun to offer trainings to OLA attorneys. According to these officials, OLA is on step three of eight in their problem solving process. In April 2024, OLA officials told us that they have continued coordinating with ExecSec in an effort to improve the reliability of congressional correspondence data.
Department of Justice The Attorney General should ensure that ExecSec and OLA develop guidance on correspondence management system data quality. (Recommendation 2)
DOJ reported in June 2023 that ExecSec and OLA have developed standard operating procedures for congressional correspondence as part of the new system for tracking and monitoring correspondence. DOJ also provided a copy of the Standard Operating Procedures Manual for Priority Correspondence. In April 2024, OLA officials told us that they were continuing to conduct outreach to DOJ components on standardizing guidance.
Department of Justice The Attorney General should ensure that OLA develops department-wide goals and related performance measures for timeliness in responding to congressional correspondence. (Recommendation 3)
Open – Partially Addressed
OLA established general timeline guidelines for each step in the response process based on the type of correspondence, the complexity of the correspondence, and the nature of the issues raised in the correspondence. The timelines for responding range from 5 weeks (33 days) for correspondence handled directly by OLA to 21 weeks (147 days) for correspondence that requires input from multiple components and review by both the Office of the Deputy Attorney General and the Office of the Associate Attorney General. OLA has incorporated these general guidelines into the standard operating procedures and workflow templates used to manage the process of responding to congressional correspondence. The workflow templates capture the most common steps applicable to typical types of correspondence and the standard operating procedures include an appendix of steps and timelines for these workflow templates. In October 2023, OLA officials told us that they have incorporated software tools to monitor the status of congressional correspondence and to improve their decision-making related to certain issues, such as monitoring the division of labor among its staff responsible for managing congressional correspondence. In April 2024, OLA officials stated that they continue to conduct outreach with law enforcement components. However, it is unclear whether OLA's timeliness goals apply to the congressional correspondence that is routed directly to these components, which have their own legislative affairs staff, to ensure the same standard of care is taken with the correspondence they manage independently.

Full Report

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