The Justice Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) has a lot on its plate in 2017 to ensure money and time are used wisely to combat fraud, waste, drugs and threats to national and cyber security.
Some of the biggest challenges the department will face in upcoming months are keeping track of appropriated funds to federal, state and local law enforcement, managing overcrowded prison systems and safeguarding national and cyber security, said DoJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz on In Depth with the Justice Department.
Agency efforts to thwart cyber and physical attacks were once primarily focused on individuals overseas, but law enforcement and intelligence officials now grapple with how to handle a rise in threats from U.S. nationals and permanent residents.
“The challenge for law enforcement and the intelligence community in particular is on understanding where those attacks may come from and what’s causing the issues to arise,” Horowitz told Eric White on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “It’s also a challenge to do that in a manner that is obviously consistent with our constitutional safeguards and protections.”
This issue has been part of the public debate since Sept. 11, 2001 and was brought back into the spotlight more recently with the Trump administration’s travel ban.
A solution to the rising problem has not been offered, but strengthening the connections between the departments and the employees within the agency could be a useful tactic.
“The Justice department actually has a significant role to play in that regard from both the standpoint of its grant-making arms that support state and local authorities and community policing relationships, but also through federal law enforcement that partner extensively with state and local law enforcement,” Horowitz said.
The OIG office has an obligation to ensure law enforcement agencies are reforming their policies and procedures to be consistent with their constitutional statutory obligations — including how federal grant and appropriated money is spent.
In its fiscal 2017 budget request, the Justice Department requested $29 billion to support federal law enforcement priorities and the criminal justice system of its state, local and tribal law enforcement partners. The agency will allocate at least $1.1 billion to be appropriated to the smaller Justice areas supporting partnerships between federal and local law enforcement, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Prisons, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the request said.
If approved, a large portion of that money will go into a general fund labeled the Drug Control Funds and Obligations.
“Eight agencies here within the Department of Justice receive drug control funding and they all have unique priorities that they work with,” Kelly McFadden, director of the DoJ financial statement and audit office, told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.
The role of the OIG when it comes to state and local funding from this pool is to perform an attestation of the data reported by the agencies tapping into this fund. The requests are processed and approved through the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Each year the OIG conducts a review of that submitted data to ensure it matches the numbers in the department’s management system, McFadden said.
“We don’t weigh in on whether or ONDCP’s priorities are good or bad or whether the performance matrix shows that DoJ is succeeding,” McFadden said. “This review is really only looking at the accuracy of the data.”
A portion of that money is also used to run programs within the overcrowded prison systems. Horowitz said that while the percentage of overcrowding has decreased in the last few years, it still remains a problem.
The percentage of funds used in this regard has increased in the last 20 years from somewhere in the teens to almost 25 percent, Horowitz said.
“The share of the department’s budget that the BOP and prisons take up continues to remain flat or even grow a little bit,” Horowitz said. “That money, as we’ve talked about in the past, makes it a challenge for the leadership of the department to manage other programs because every dollar that goes to a prison means one less dollar for FBI agents, ATF agents, DEA agents, federal prosecutors, civil rights prosecutors, civil division and everyone else in the Justice Department.”
McFadden said OIG also conducts audits on general funds within the department — but not in the same way as the general fund. For the drug control fund pool, the office takes two months annually to put together an accounting report to showcase the accuracy of the data reported by the ONDCP.
In its 2016 Annual Accounting of Drug Control Funds and Related Performance review, the OIG reported approximately $7.8 billion of drug control obligations and 23 related performance measures within the DoJ.