Semiannual Report to Congress
October 1, 2005-March 31, 2006
Office of the Inspector General
ATF's more than 5,000 employees perform the dual responsibilities of enforcing federal criminal laws and regulating the firearms and explosives industries. ATF works to investigate and reduce violent crime involving firearms and explosives, acts of arson, and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products. ATF provides training and support to its federal, state, local, and international law enforcement partners, and works primarily in 23 field divisions across the 50 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. Foreign offices are located in Mexico, Canada, Colombia, and France.
ATF operates three regional forensic science laboratories to support the enforcement of laws related to firearms, explosives, arson, alcohol, and tobacco. The laboratories also support regulatory functions associated with the firearms and explosives industries. Laboratory staff examines firearms, toolmarks, fire debris, explosives materials, latent prints, documents, and trace evidence. In addition, ATF forensic examiners provide training, crime scene assistance, and court testimony. In FY 2005, ATF laboratories performed over 2,600 forensic examinations with an authorized staff of 106 positions and a budget of approximately $16 million.
The OIG’s Audit Division evaluated whether the laboratories managed workloads effectively to provide timely services to ATF field divisions. This audit followed up on findings reported in 2001 by the Department of Treasury OIG – which was responsible for auditing ATF until its transfer to the Department in 2003 – that the laboratories did not always provide timely service and did not properly prioritize workloads.
Our audit found that processing times have not significantly improved in the past 4 years. Two-thirds of completed forensic examinations continued to take more than 30 days to complete and about one-third of examinations took more than 90 days. Although customers appreciated the quality of work the laboratories produced, more than half the special agents we interviewed said they used other laboratories at times to obtain more timely results.
Improvements in the timeliness of laboratory examinations have been limited because ATF has not accomplished actions it committed to in 2001, such as increasing the number of examiner positions in the forensic laboratories, implementing a new priority system, implementing a new information management system, and significantly reducing the size of its backlog of examination requests. Laboratory staffing generally was adequate to manage the incoming workload, but backlogged requests continued to interfere with the timely analysis of incoming examination requests. The audit found that the backlog could increase as a result of unusually resource-intensive cases. We concluded that if these conditions are not addressed serious consequences may result, such as delays in making arrests and bringing offenders to trial.
In our report, we recommended that ATF develop and implement plans to: 1) eliminate the backlog in each regional forensic science laboratory, 2) manage unusually high incoming workloads that are associated with resource-intensive cases, 3) form agreements and contracts with other laboratories to perform forensic work to provide support when the demand for examinations is unusually high and to help eliminate the backlog, 4) prioritize all incoming evidence submissions to support its investigative priorities and establish realistic time standards for completion, 5) ensure that special agents are educated on the new priority system and comply with its requirements, and 6) reduce the time it takes to fill examiner vacancies.
ATF concurred with our recommendations and indicated that it was in the process of taking corrective action.
During this reporting period, the OIG received 202 complaints involving ATF. The most common allegations made against ATF employees included waste, misuse of government property, and job performance failure. The OIG opened 3 investigations and referred 197 allegations to ATF’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations, Investigations Division.
At the close of the reporting period, the OIG had four open cases of alleged misconduct against ATF employees. The allegations included release of information, job performance failure, and misuse of a government-owned vehicle. The following are examples of cases involving ATF that the OIG’s Investigations Division investigated during this reporting period:
The OIG is evaluating an ATF initiative, Violent Crime Impact Teams, which is intended to reduce violent firearms crimes in selected cities across the United States. This review will assess whether ATF effectively implemented the Violent Crime Impact Teams and whether the teams are achieving the program’s stated goal of reducing violent crime.
Federal statutes authorize law enforcement agencies to seize assets associated with suspected criminal activity. ATF special agents seize property such as firearms, explosives, ammunition, vehicles, and monetary instruments for use as evidence during criminal investigations. This property must be inventoried, stored, and safeguarded pending the outcome of a criminal investigation. The OIG is assessing ATF’s management of seized assets by examining its compliance with applicable federal laws, regulations, and Department policies and procedures that apply to seized assets; assessing the adequacy of its controls over accounting for, storing, and safeguarding seized assets in its possession; and analyzing ATF’s accounting for the disposition of its seized assets.