DOJ investigators have mixed reviews of agency’s COVID-19 response, IG says

More than two-thirds of investigative agents at the Justice Department say COVID-19 has impacted their ability to work cases, according to a recently-released employee survey from the agency’s inspector general.

Among those who said the pandemic had affected their investigative work were 64% of the roughly 6,100 DOJ employees from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, U.S. Attorneys Office and U.S. Marshals Service who responded to a survey from the department’s IG.

Nearly 70% of FBI employees and roughly 67% of ATF agents, for example, said they disagreed or strongly disagreed the COVID-19 pandemic had little to no impact on their operations, according to the survey, which the Justice Department’s inspector general released earlier this week.

Overall, DOJ employees offered mixed responses of their agencies’ responses to the pandemic.

“My agency’s response at the HQ level was coordinated, immediate, and handled with the care of the employees in a way I will be forever grateful and was incredibly humbled by,” one employee, whose response the IG highlighted, said.

Others had a different outlook.

“Policies are put in place and sent out, but not enforced,” another person said. “People in my office are not wearing masks or social distancing.”

The IG conducted the survey between early July and August. The survey is only representative of the law enforcement employees who responded to its survey, not the entire department, the IG noted.

“Our results indicate a cultural component may be contributing to whether employees practice recommended safety protocols,” Michael Horowitz, the DOJ inspector general, said in a summary of his office’s findings. “Therefore, consistent communication and follow-through by senior leadership and management, as it relates to COVID-19 guidance and protocol, are important factors to ensuring the safety, productivity, and health of their employees, as well as those with whom department personnel interact.”

The OIG discussed some of the findings with DOJ component leaders, Horowitz added. The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

A majority of DOJ employees agreed the department had given them personal protective equipment, such as masks, hand sanitizer and face shields, needed to do their jobs. A quarter of DOJ respondents disagreed the department had provided them adequate PPE.

But employees were more mixed when asked about their own mask use, and that of their state and local partners, at work.

According to the IG’s survey, nearly two-thirds of DOJ employees said they wear a mask at work always or often. Between 40-to-46% of employees said the federal, state and local law enforcement partners with whom they work wear a mask always or often at work.

“Although our leadership team instructed people to wear masks, it was not enforced, and at times, employees were shamed by coworkers for wearing masks,” according to one employee, whose response was highlighted by the IG.

The vast majority of DOJ employees, nearly 93%, said their agencies hadn’t tested them for COVID-19, and 57% said their agencies hadn’t implemented temperature or other health screenings for federal agents.

For those who deliver warrants or take suspects into custody, the vast majority of DOJ law enforcement agents said they took health precautions when performing those activities.

Yet 60% said they agreed that individuals who exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 would be tested. Slightly more DOJ employees said there were protocols in place to inform them if a person they had been working with or had taken into custody had tested positive for COVID-19.

The survey did not include the Bureau of Prisons, but the IG maintains a separate dashboard tracking COVID-19 cases at BOP facilities.

As of Friday afternoon, the IG’s dashboard tracked 7,220 active COVID-19 cases among inmates and another 1,714 cases among BOP staff. A total of 32,192 inmates and 2,880 BOP staff have recovered from the virus, according to the IG’s data.

The Justice IG is one of several inspectors general who have reviewed their agency’s responses to COVID-19 and its impact on the workforce during the ongoing pandemic.

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