Many federal agencies employ law enforcement officers to carry out the agency’s law enforcement mission and maintain the security of federal property, employees, and the public. Some of these agencies have specialized law enforcement teams—or federal tactical teams—whose members are selected, trained, equipped, and assigned to prevent and resolve critical incidents involving a public safety threat that their agency’s traditional law enforcement may not otherwise have the capability to resolve.
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) review examined 25 tactical teams across 18 agencies, such as agencies within the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Energy, and the Interior. The number of reported team members per team ranged from two to 1,099. More than half (16 of 25) of the teams reported that they are composed of team members working for the team on a collateral basis. Most teams (17 of 25) had multiple units across various locations.
GAO found that the tactical teams generally followed a similar training process, with initial training, specialty training, and ongoing training requirements. Nearly all teams (24 of 25) reported that new team members complete an initial tactical training course, which ranged from 1 week to 10 months. For example, potential new team members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hostage Rescue Team complete a 10-month initial training that includes courses on firearms; helicopter operations; and surveillance, among others. Nearly all teams (24 of 25) reported offering specialized training to some team members, such as in sniper operations and breaching. Nearly all teams (24 of 25) also reported having ongoing training requirements, ranging from 40 hours per year to over 400 hours per year.
The number and types of deployments varied across the 25 tactical teams for fiscal years 2015 through 2019. The number of reported deployments per tactical team during this time period ranged from 0 to over 5,000. Teams conducted different types of deployments, but some types were common among teams, such as:
- supporting operations of other law enforcement entities, such as other federal, state, and local law enforcement (16 of 25);
- providing protection details for high-profile individuals (15 of 25);
- responding to or providing security at civil disturbances, such as protests (13 of 25); and
- serving high-risk search and arrest warrants (11 of 25).
Four teams reported that they had deployed in response to the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and 16 teams reported deployments related to nationwide civil unrest and protests in May and June 2020.
Tactical teams reported having various types of firearms, tactical equipment, and tactical vehicles in their inventories. Team members generally have a standard set of firearms (e.g., a pistol, a backup pistol, and a rifle), but some may also have specialized firearms (e.g., a shotgun designed to breach doors). Tactical teams also have a variety of tactical equipment, such as night vision devices to maintain surveillance of suspects or tactical robots that can go into locations to obtain audio and video information when team members cannot safely enter those locations. Tactical teams may also have tactical vehicles, such as manned aircraft (e.g., helicopters) and armored vehicles to patrol locations.
GAO’s report provides details on each of the 25 tactical teams, such as each team’s mission; staffing; types and frequency of training; and number and types of deployments from fiscal years 2015 through 2019. Information deemed to be sensitive by the agencies, such as the quantities of firearms, tactical equipment, and tactical vehicles in team inventories, has been omitted from this report.