U.S. attorneys serve as the federal government’s principal criminal and civil litigators and conduct most of the trial work in which the United States is a party. Under the direction of the Attorney General, 94 U.S. attorneys are stationed throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Northern Mariana Islands. More than 11,200 employees work in those offices and in the EOUSA.
The OIG’s Audit Division issued an audit of the Department’s Victim Notification System (VNS), an automated system managed by EOUSA that notifies federal crime victims regarding developments in their cases, including information about the status of the investigation, prosecution, trial, and incarceration of the offender related to the crime. Victims in the VNS are notified by letter, e‑mail, facsimile, or telephone when a particular event in a case occurs, such as a scheduled court date or the release of a prisoner. As of October 5, 2007, the VNS contained information on more than 1.5 million registered victims.
As part of this review, the OIG conducted surveys of active and inactive crime victims in the VNS and found that, overall, survey respondents generally were satisfied with VNS services. Our survey found that victims generally believed the VNS notifications were understandable and useful, obtained the information they wanted from the VNS Call Center, and were able to easily navigate the VNS website.
However, the surveys also identified areas in which improvements could be made. A quarter of survey respondents indicated that they had not heard of the VNS prior to receiving the OIG’s survey, had never received a notification from the VNS, or were not aware that they were registered as crime victims in the VNS. In addition, while the OIG surveys revealed that more than 70 percent of respondents considered the custody status of offenders involved in their cases to be an important piece of information, this information is not consistently entered into the VNS. In addition, 56 percent of victims responding to the survey indicated that they were dissatisfied with the amount of information available to them through the VNS regarding restitution.
We found few internal controls in place to ensure the accuracy and completeness of data in the VNS. We also identified deficiencies in the security of VNS information, most notably that the sensitive crime victim information contained within the VNS was not adequately protected against loss of confidentiality and that the integrity and availability of data was not appropriately ensured.
The OIG made 19 recommendations to help improve EOUSA’s management of the VNS, such as developing an interface to connect all relevant federal agencies to the VNS, formalizing long-term plans for the system and its management, improving certain facets of Call Center services, and addressing the vulnerabilities identified during the information security review of the VNS. EOUSA concurred with our recommendations and has outlined a plan to address them.
The following is an example of a case involving a USAO employee that the OIG’s Investigations Division handled during this reporting period:
An investigation by the OIG’s New York Field Office, with assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) OIG, led to the arrest of a USAO legal assistant on charges of fraud and making false statements. The investigation determined that between 1985 and 2006 the legal assistant received federal housing benefits estimated at $137,993. The legal assistant submitted fraudulent pay statements to support her claim and failed to disclose the extent of her federal employment income from the USAO. Judicial proceedings continue.
Review of USAOs’ Resource Management
The OIG is auditing the allocation of resources of the 94 USAOs. In particular, the audit is examining the allocation and utilization of federal prosecutors within USAOs, the accuracy and completeness of USAO utilization and casework data, and the type and number of cases being handled by the USAOs.
The OIG’s Audit Division evaluated the effectiveness of the U.S. Trustee Program (USTP) in monitoring the performance of Chapter 7 panel trustees. The USTP is responsible for supervising the administration of bankruptcy cases and trustees, including Chapter 7 panel trustees. The USTP appoints over 1,000 Chapter 7 panel trustees nationwide who are responsible for collecting over $2 billion in funds annually through the liquidation of debtors’ estates and distributing those funds to secured and unsecured creditors in accordance with the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
Our audit report, which examined the USTP’s monitoring of panel trustees from FYs 2004 through 2007, found that the procedural framework of audits and reviews established by the USTP was adequate to ensure the competency and integrity of panel trustees in discharging their fiduciary duties. However, we found that field examinations of panel trustee operations – one of the USTP’s primary oversight mechanisms – were not conducted within the required 4-year timeframe for 26 percent of the trustees requiring field examinations during the review period. In several instances, field examinations were not conducted at all, which resulted in some panel trustees being allowed to operate for 8 years without an on-site review of their operations.
USTP staff also are supposed to conduct annual reviews of trustees’ interim reports. Of the 156 trustee interim reports that we reviewed in a judgmental sample, we found that 18 percent of the reviews were not conducted or adequately documented. Not consistently examining these reports on a timely basis could increase the risk that a panel trustee’s poor performance or misconduct may go undetected.
We provided four recommendations for the improvement of the USTP’s oversight efforts. The Department concurred with our recommendations.
Under the Department’s Forfeiture Program, state and local law enforcement agencies receive equitable sharing assets when participating directly with the Department’s law enforcement components in joint investigations that lead to the seizure or forfeiture of cash and property. To be eligible to receive equitable sharing proceeds, law enforcement agencies must submit a sharing request within 60 days of an asset seizure.
During this reporting period, the OIG’s Audit Division audited the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) in Omaha, Nebraska, and reviewed the DCSO’s compliance with six essential equitable sharing guidelines.
The Department awarded the DSCO with equitable sharing revenues totaling nearly $1.3 million and property valued at $64,929 to support law enforcement operations. We found that the DCSO complied with the equitable sharing guidelines with respect to use of equitable sharing property, interest earned on equitable sharing funds, and non-supplanting requirements. However, we identified weaknesses related to the DCSO’s: 1) Federal Sharing Agreements and Annual Certification Reports, 2) accounting for equitable sharing receipts, and 3) use of equitable sharing funds. We made five recommendations, including requiring the DCSO to resubmit the FY 2006 and 2007 Annual Certification Reports with corrected information and accurately account for equitable sharing receipts. The DCSO agreed with our recommendations.