The U.S. Attorneys are the principal litigators of the United States government and are responsible for handling litigation involving a wide variety of criminal and civil matters. Examples of criminal matters they handle include narcotics trafficking, terrorism, and public corruption offenses. Examples of civil matters include bankruptcy, foreclosure, and medical malpractice cases. U.S. Attorneys must decide where to focus their prosecutorial efforts, within the framework of the national priorities established by the Attorney General. Therefore, the criminal and civil casework of individual district offices differ based upon a variety of factors.
The purpose of this review was to evaluate the accuracy and completeness of the United States Attorneys’ Offices’ (USAO) utilization and casework data to determine if decision-makers were utilizing reliable information during the budget and resource allocation processes, as well as to assess the process by which human resources are allocated among the various USAOs. In addition, we identified the criminal and civil areas to which attorneys were allocated and utilized during fiscal years (FY) 2003 through 2007. We also reviewed the changes occurring between FYs 2003 and 2007 in the type and number of criminal and civil matters addressed by USAOs.
Ninety-four USAOs are located throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.13 Each USAO is headed by a U.S. Attorney who is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The U.S. Attorney serves as the district’s principal litigator under the direction of the Attorney General. USAOs are responsible for investigating and prosecuting individuals who violate U.S. criminal laws, representing and defending the United States in civil litigation (including debt collection), and handling both criminal and civil appeals. As of April 21, 2008, the USAOs employed 5,381 U.S. Attorneys and Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSA) and 5,921 support personnel.
The Attorney General, through the Deputy Attorney General, directs the work of the U.S. Attorneys, and the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA) acts as a liaison between the Department of Justice (DOJ or the Department) and the U.S. Attorneys. Each U.S. Attorney operates with a significant level of autonomy, while EOUSA provides management oversight and administrative support to the USAOs, including general executive assistance and direction and policy development. EOUSA officials stated that EOUSA does not instruct individual USAOs how to focus their prosecutorial efforts.
The following chart illustrates EOUSA’s operational structure. As of April 21, 2008, the various operational units within EOUSA were comprised of 36 attorneys and 237 support staff, primarily in Washington, D.C. During FY 2008, the enacted budget for the entire U.S. Attorney organization, including the USAOs and EOUSA, was $1.755 billion. According to EOUSA officials, when including reimbursable funding the total budget managed by EOUSA was approximately $2 billion.
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EOUSA monitors the activities of USAOs through a formal evaluation process overseen by its Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS), which conducts peer evaluations of individual district offices.14 EARS attempts to perform an evaluation of each USAO every 3 years. However, according to EOUSA officials, during the period that we reviewed, due to recent budget constraints, the evaluation cycle had occurred about every 4 to 5 years. However, at the audit close-out meeting, EOUSA officials stated that these evaluations have resumed their triennial cycle.
Among other things, the EARS reviews examine each USAO’s compliance with EOUSA management standards regarding criminal and civil workload. The EARS process is also used to assess how well USAOs are following DOJ polices and the Attorney General’s priorities.
EOUSA coordinates with the Attorney General's Advisory Committee (AGAC) in formulating a budget submission for all USAOs.15 During this process, the AGAC reviews the Attorney General’s priorities, USAO casework and utilization data, and any new legislation affecting USAO workload. From this review, the AGAC provides its recommendations on resource needs to EOUSA for consideration during budget formulation. This information, including a draft budget, is then presented to the EOUSA Director for review and approval before the final submission is made to DOJ. The following table depicts the amounts requested and enacted for USAOs during FYs 2003 through 2008.
U.S. ATTORNEY FUNDING AND FULL-TIME EQUIVALENT (FTE)
REQUESTS AND ENACTED APPROPRIATIONS
FYs 2003 THROUGH 2008
|Source: DOJ and EOUSA budget documents|
No recent reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) have examined USAO resource management. However, we identified two reports – one GAO-report issued in FY 2004 and one OIG report issued in FY 2007 – pertaining to the accuracy of federal prosecution data, particularly terrorism-related statistics reported by DOJ. The GAO concluded that DOJ does not have sufficient management oversight and internal controls in place to ensure the accuracy and reliability of EOUSA’s terrorism-related statistics.16 Specifically, the GAO stated that approximately 46 percent of the FY 2002 terrorism-related convictions were misclassified.
The OIG’s February 2007 review examined the reporting of terrorism-related statistics by three DOJ components, including EOUSA.17 The OIG report found that EOUSA and the USAOs did not accurately report the 11 terrorism-related statistics that were reviewed, including the number of terrorism-related convictions and the number of terrorism and anti-terrorism cases terminated against defendants. The OIG report also found that, in general, EOUSA and the USAOs had not established effective internal control procedures for verifying the accuracy of the Legal Information Office Network System (LIONS) data to ensure statistics reported based on LIONS data were accurate. Finally, the OIG report concluded that EOUSA’s definition of terrorism-related program activity was not clear. EOUSA has taken corrective action, and all of the OIG’s recommendations to the agency have been closed.
The objectives of this audit were to:
- examine the accuracy and completeness of USAO utilization and casework data, as well as assess the process by which personnel resources are allocated to USAOs;
- determine the allocation and utilization of attorneys within USAOs; and
- determine the changes in USAO casework from FY 2003 through FY 2007.
To accomplish these audit objectives, we reviewed EOUSA data related to the allocation of attorneys to USAOs, the actual utilization of these attorneys, and the USAOs’ casework for FYs 2003 through 2007. In addition, we interviewed EOUSA officials, including the Director and other senior management within the Director’s Office, regarding the allocation process, USAO priorities, and the performance of USAOs.
Chapters 2 through 4 present an overview of our audit results, while the audit scope and methodology are presented in Appendix I. In Chapter 2, we examine the methods for collecting utilization and casework data, and we assess the reliability of this data. We also discuss EOUSA’s process for allocating human resources among the USAOs. Chapter 3 focuses on the utilization of attorneys in comparison to USAO allocated staffing levels. In Chapter 4, we examine the criminal and civil matters referred to USAOs, including the number of matters filed, declined, or pending, as well as the average caseload per attorney FTE.
- The U.S. Attorney for the District of Guam also oversees the District of the Northern Mariana Islands, resulting in 93 U.S. Attorneys for 94 USAOs. See Appendix II for the geographical boundaries of the USAOs and Appendix III for the acronyms of each USAO.
- EARS reviews are conducted jointly by EARS and USAO personnel, including experienced AUSAs from other districts.
- The AGAC, which is comprised of 16 U.S. Attorneys and 1 AUSA: (1) provides a mechanism for U.S. Attorneys to provide input on DOJ policies, and (2) advises the Attorney General on a variety of operational and programmatic issues affecting U.S. Attorneys.
- U.S. Government Accountability Office. Justice Department: Better Management Oversight and Internal Controls Needed to Ensure Accuracy of Terrorism-Related Statistics, GAO-03-266 (January 17, 2003).
- U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, The Department of Justice’s Internal Controls Over Terrorism Reporting, Audit Report 07-20 (February 2007).